Mississippi was a focal point in the struggle for civil rights in America, and Hattiesburg, home of The University of Southern Mississippi had the largest and most successful Freedom Summer project in 1964. The civil rights materials collected at the University are an indigenous resource of the region. They document a local history with truly national significance. Through the use of digital imaging and other information technologies, USM Libraries is providing a worldwide audience of researchers and other learners with a firsthand perspective on the civil rights movement that otherwise would be restricted to local users and only the most dedicated of historical researchers.
The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries laid the foundations of the Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive in 1999. For the first phase of the project, USM Libraries cooperated with the USM Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage to offer more than 60 oral history transcripts on the civil rights movement, such as those by civil rights leaders Charles Cobb, Charles Evers, Aaron Henry, and Hollis Watkins. This collection also includes oral histories of race-baiting governor Ross Barnett, national White Citizens Council leader William J. Simmons, and State Sovereignty head Erle Johnston. The project was expanded in 2001 by the addition of twenty-two letters from the Joseph and Nancy Freedom Summer Collection and four diaries of freedom school teachers in 1964.
With the award of an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant for 2002-2004, the second phase of the Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive went into full-swing. In addition to 84 more oral histories, nearly 1,000 items were selected from USM's manuscript and photograph collections, totaling more than 7,000 pages. In addition to enhancing enhance access to primary source material, preserving original materials by creating digital surrogates, and creating learning opportunities for remote users, the grant project provided a demonstration of what a digital imaging program in a medium-sized repository can accomplish.