June 2012's Researcher of the Month: Dr. Michael Williams, Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies
Dr. Michael Vinson Williams is an Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies. He received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi where he was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar. He has been at Mississippi State since Fall, 2008.
Williams' major research initiatives involve "The Struggle," the American Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century. Being a Mississippi native exposed Williams to that struggle and its aftermath as the state was a hotbed of segregation. It was during his early years that Williams learned of the efforts and sacrifice of Medgar Evers, one of Mississippi's staunchest Civil Rights advocates. Evers became the subject of Williams' first major work. His Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr. (University of Arkansas Press, 2011) is the first full length scholarly biography of Evers in decades. Williams explores the milieu in which Evers labored, noting full well the familial and personal courage that this crusader exhibited and the sacrifices that he and his family endured. Williams' book is also about organization, about how a network of people passionate about equal rights emerged and pursued a fervent objective in the face of all odds. That latter subject now provides the focus of Williams' research as he seeks to identify and examine the extremely complicated web of associates, compatriots and others who led the struggle in Mississippi throughout the 20th century. As was the case in the Evers study, Williams hopes not simply to describe these people and their acts but also to make them come alive for present and future generations. Employing the biblical injunction that "the past shall set ye free," Williams believes that introducing the struggle to those who are ignorant of what was and of the great personal tragedies that these advocates endured can instill a sense of pride, admiration and liberation in those who should and need to know.
Williams' choice of research focus, college to attend and place of employment reflect his profound sense of place and family. The eldest of ten children, Williams reveres tradition, family and the land. He incorporates African-American and African practices and traditions in his daily life.
Williams does more than talk the talk. He walks the walk. He is intimately involved in all things Mississippi. He serves on the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning African American Male Initiative Taskforce. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has designated him a Specialist Scholar for the Civil Rights Museum. He is an advisory board member for the National African American Student Leadership Conference, a volunteer teacher for the Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom School and Culture Center, and a former board member of the Save Our Children Foundation. In addition, Williams has been a Project Fatherhood coordinator. He talks about his research to community groups in the state well over a half dozen times per year.