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Media College eNews

7 Sep
steele When photojournalist Alysia Burton Steele moved to Mississippi, she saw images that reminded her of childhood visits with her grandmother in South Carolina. She longed for a connection with her late grandmother and set out to meet and record the oral histories of her contemporaries — the Mississippi Delta’s beloved “church mothers.”

Steele spent nine months and logged 6,000 miles along the back roads and highways of Mississippi. The labor of love resulted in her book, “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.”

“Delta Jewels” is a collection of formal portraits and oral histories including civil rights activist Mrs. Myrlie Evers — widow of NAACP leader Medgar Evers. The women featured in “Delta Jewels” share poignant highlights about life during the Jim Crow era in Mississippi, including stories about the Civil Rights Movement, voting, fighting to receive an education and working on plantations.

On Thursday, September 22, at 7:30 p.m., Steele will give a presentation of her work at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media Innovation Center. “Delta Jewels: Black Women, Wit and Wisdom from the Mississippi Delta” will include excerpts from Steele’s book and a discussion about her photography.

Steele says she is eager to share her stories about the “church mothers” with residents of the Mountain State.

“I have never been to West Virginia University, so I’m very excited to see the campus and meet students, members of the community and faculty,” said Steele. “There are important oral histories to collect in every community, and to be able to share the Mississippi Delta’s with West Virginia University is an honor.”

delta-jewels_cover “Delta Jewels” has been featured in various national publications including: The New York Times, National Public Radio, Southern Living,, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Garden & Gun, and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.In addition, “Delta Jewels” has been accepted into the Library of Congress.

Steele spent more than 12 years as a photojournalist at The Columbus Dispatch and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution where she worked as a picture editor and deputy director of photo. In 2006, she served as one of the picture editors on The Dallas Morning Star team that won the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for their Hurricane Katrina coverage.

Currently, Steele is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

“Delta Jewels: Black Women, Wit and Wisdom from the Mississippi Delta” is co-sponsored by the WVU Reed College of Media, the WVU English Department, and the WVU History Department. The event is free and open to the public. The Media Innovation Center is located on the fourth floor of the Evansdale Crossing building.

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