Soul Sessions Podcast: Michael Morris
On today’s show, Director of Public Engagement from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Michael Morris.
Michael began as a Public Information Officer and Director of Public Relations before maturating into his current role. He offers a wealth of knowledge, and always greets you with a warm smile.
Note: Soul Sessions is produced as a podcast first and designed to be listened to. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes the emotion and inflection meant to be conveyed by human voice. Our transcripts are created using human transcribers, but may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Yolanda: This is Soul Sessions, conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. I'm your host Yolanda Clay-Moore, bringing you a look at the people, places, and events that make us the City With Soul. On today's show, Director of Public Engagement from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Michael Morris. Michael began as a Public Information Officer and Director of Public Relations before maturating into his current role. He offers a wealth of knowledge, and always greets you with a warm smile.
Michael, hello, how are you doing?
Michael: I'm doing terrific. How about yourself, Yolanda?
Yolanda: I have to admit that I have to fight the urge to call you Michael Morrisey because of Stephanie Morrisey. Am I the only one?
Michael: Yes. That's my colleague, and especially when we worked together, it made it very difficult for folks that were outside of the agency to kind of get the difference between the two of us.
Yolanda: Just tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Michael: My job title is Director of Public Engagement, but really, what that means is I do whatever our director Katie Blount asks me.
Yolanda: Well, people might tend to think that history might be kind of boring. What's your take on that?
Michael: I'd strongly disagree. I think that any true student of history can't help but be fascinated with just how complex the past is. And there's just no easy way to look at what's happened before without really trying to understand it, and really, what it comes down to, is decisions. "Why do people in the past make the decisions that they made?" And to me, that is so very much interesting. Whether we're talking about just the city of Jackson or whether we're talking about our nation or whether we're talking about the world, I think history has a lot to offer us.
Yolanda: Well, that's a great take on that. I'm kind of going to segue way into why we have you on the show today. I was traveling from Columbus, Georgia, for graduation celebration for my cousin, and of course that carried us through Selma, Alabama, and I felt compelled to stop at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, just to pay homage to Bloody Sunday and the brave Civil Rights marchers that marched there. And my family had a discussion, because it was kind of almost late evening when we made it through there, that if we had been traveling in the 60s, we would've been completely frightened. That's kind of a segue to why we have you on here talking about the exhibit you have. So, tell us about that exhibit.
Michael: The traveling exhibit that we are going to have at the two Mississippi museums is called the Negro Motorist's Green Book. For those that don't know, the Green Book was an annual guide that was first created in 1936 by a postman named Victor Hugo Green. And it was distributed nationwide, and it was published up until 1967, and basically, what it did was it gave Black folks an idea of what friendly businesses there were across, specifically, the South, and Selma is a great example, because I believe that there were a number of places in Selma, Alabama that were listed in the Green Book as places where you can go and have lunch at a restaurant, or go and purchase a hat from a store.
Michael: And of course, Jackson had a number of places in the Green Book as well. And so it's a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian, but what we normally do at the Department of Archives and History, with traveling exhibits, is we Mississippi it. We make sure that we make sure that we put a Mississippi centric focus on the exhibit, and one of the cool things that our exhibit staff did was they went ahead and started creating an app for phones or whatever that'll lists all 115 places in Mississippi that were listed in the Green Book between 1936 and 1967.
Yolanda: What a great step back into history. To know that exists for people to kind of walk through history today is pretty fascinating.
Michael: It's kind of hard for us today to kind of understand what it was like to be living during the Jim Crow era, to understand that there were stores that we couldn't shop in, and that there were restaurants that we couldn't eat in. And so my hope is that this exhibit gives, especially our young folks, an opportunity to kind of get a sense of what that was like, to just get a taste of what that era was truly like, in terms of not being able to spend your dollars where you see fit, as opposed to today, where we can spend our dollars anywhere. And of course, Farish Street plays a big part into that story, because that was the Black Business District, as you know, Yolanda, during that time period.
Yolanda: Right, the Black Mecca.
Yolanda: How long will that exhibit be with us?
Michael: That exhibit is going to be up through the end of the year. Folks are going to have an opportunity to look at it, and we're going to do a number of public programs around that exhibit. Doing public programming will give us another way of advertising that the exhibit is on display at the Two Mississippi museums. A lot of folks probably remember the movie about the Green Book that came out a few years ago. I think we're going to, at some point, do a screening of that movie, and possibly a screening... The Smithsonian has produced a documentary about the Green Book that we're probably going to screen a few weekends while the exhibit is up as well. So, that's going to be plenty of opportunity for folks to be able to experience this exhibit, and it really dovetails, Yolanda, with what the Museum of Art is doing with their Great Migration exhibit, because the Great Migration and the Green Book, both of these ideas kind of go hand in hand.
Michael: While Black folks were traveling North, they're utilizing tools like the Green Book to be able to decide where they could eat, and etcetera. So, I encourage everyone to go by the Museum of Art, and check out their exhibit on the Great Migration. It's really excellent.
Yolanda: That'd be a great combination, to do both of those things. Well, Michael, if you had 24 hours to show off your city, what would you do, and where would you go?
Michael: Well, I had the opportunity to drive around Dr. Eddie Glaude of Princeton University a couple of months ago. And what we first did was we went by the two Mississippi museums that morning. It's a lot to see. So, it'll probably take you a while to go through both of those facilities. For lunch, I'd encourage folks to go by Eddie’s and Rubye's Snack Bar, and get a pan trout sandwich.
Yolanda: Yeah. Get a pan trout sandwich.
Michael: And then I'd encourage folks to go by the Museum of Art in the afternoon, and possibly the Eudora Welty House & Garden. And then hopefully there's something going on the offbeat. There's always something going on the offbeat in the evenings, but I just think that's a great place to go and kind of unload, get a beer, maybe purchase a record, and just kind of talk to the DJs that are usually performing there. So, that would be my 24 hours in Jackson.
Yolanda: That's a good itinerary. Michael, what makes Jackson, Mississippi such a special place?
Michael: I really do think it's the people that make Jackson special. And I think I'm saying that because I grew up here, and I just happen to know a lot of people in the city, but I think that even a stranger that comes here for the first time can't help but notice the hospitality that's here, the kindness that you experience just asking for directions. I just got back from DC, and in the hotel that I was staying in, I happened to have on a Jackson State University T-shirt, and somebody stopped me that was from Jackson, and we ended up talking for a whole hour about people that we knew from Jackson, and I had other things to do, but I didn't mind, because it's my favorite topic to talk about.
Michael: It's Jackson, what neighborhood I grew up in, what school I went to, where I like to eat. And so I think that's really what makes Jackson so special is the people, and of course, the history of the city, but the people make up the history, if that makes sense, because the people tell the stories about what happened in the past and so that makes them even more important.
Yolanda: Well, we thank you for sharing that with us. We'll put links for the exhibit and the work that you do over at Mississippi Department of Archives and History in our show notes. And Michael, thank you so much for being here today with us.
Michael: Thank you, Yolanda. I really do appreciate it, and I enjoyed the conversation.
Yolanda: Soul Sessions is a production of Visit Jackson. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Ricky Thigpen. To learn more about our organization and mission, head to visitjackson.com. I'm your host Yolanda Clay-Moore, and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.