“The Radical South” Presented by Dr. Mab Segrest

Dr. Mab Segrest, social justice activist, will be here at the University of Mississippi to speak on the series “The Radical South.” She will be discussing one particular topic titled “States Of Emergency: Legacies From The Global South For Feminist Resurgence In The Age Of Trump.” The series has been put together by The Sarah Isom Center and The Center For Southern Culture. The event will be held on April 24, 2017 in Bondurant Hall 204C at 5:30 pm.

“The Radical South” is a discussion series that is a response to Governor Phil Bryant making April Confederate History Month. “The goal of The Radical South series is to question the equation of the South with the Confederacy and to broaden our understanding of the South to include the full complexity of the region—past, present, and future.” (Jamie Harker, director of Sarah Isom Center).

Mab Segrest is a feminist author, an activist, and a scholar. She was born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1949 and attended Huntington College from 1967-1971. She later received her Ph.D from Duke University in 1979. Segrest has worked full time with numerous political organizations, and later worked at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut (2004-2014). While working there, she was ordained as Fuller-Matthai Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies. Mab is now researching for a book/series of books about the Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Alabama. Some of her most notable works are Living in a House I Do Not Own (Night Heron Press, 1982), My Mama’s Dead Squirrel: Lesbian Essays on Southern Culture, (Firebrand Books, 1985), Memoir of a Race Traitor (South End Press, 1994), and Born to Belonging: Writings on Spirit and Justice (Rutgers University Press, 2002).

Ally: What event/events sparked your desire to speak against such controversial and sensitive issues of race, homophobia, etc? Was it something that happened directly to you, or was it more of you feeling personally convicted, knowing that these things were not right?

Mab: Growing up in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement and experiencing history come to my front door during the integration of my high school in 1963 showed me an alternative explanation of the realities I had grown up within that made more sense and had courage and spirit.  White resistance all over Alabama showed me the violent understructure of my culture, but it took me while to sort it all through.  I attended a white segregated academy for high school that had been founded by my parents.  I left Alabama after graduation from College and went to Duke for graduate school.  There I came out as a lesbian, which gave me the clarity to become an activist. 

 

Ally: Could you tell me what inspired STATES OF EMERGENCY: LEGACIES FROM THE GLOBAL SOUTH FOR FEMINIST RESURGENCE IN THE AGE OF TRUMP?
Mab: I will argue that Trump’s election is already sowing the ground for multiple states of emergency in the United States and globally.  These emergencies will be a result, I think, of  both the deliberate agendas of his Republican cabinet members and think thanks like the Heritage Foundation to defund and deconstruct the “welfare state,” which is the part of the government that takes care of its people.  In Reagan’s day, the mission was to “starve the beast” of welfare and the public good.  Today Trumps’ chief strategist and chief racist Steve Bannon calls for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”   The elimination of vital regulations (of production of drugs, food, banking, etc etc). of environmental protections, of public education, of justice for all people, of diplomacy, of regulation of corporate greed, will put us all at risk (whoever we voted for).  Nor is giving all of the the “saved” money to the already ultra rich and the military a good idea. 

On the other hand,  I was heartened and fascinated that it was the “Women’s March” that first rallied massive amounts of people in protest of Trump the day after the inauguration.  Yet feminism and women’s and gender rights advocates today are fairly fragmented over what direction and leadership of the movement should be in this era. ( After all, there has never been a “women’s revolution,” so we don’t know what that would look like.)  To me, the best place to look for answers is the “global south,” those countries in the mostly southern hemisphere who were colonized by Europe for four hundred or more years, and especially their women’s participation in their emancipation from colonial control.  Then i would add those women who have struggled to make capitalism a less oppressive economic system (with innovations like minimum wage, an 8-hour day, social security, and so forth) and to shape more sustainable and humane economic systems.  

There is much strategy and courage in these movements that is not acknowledged in many US histories of feminism and women’s organizing.  We can also draw from  the legacies of movements against slavery and white supremacy,  indigenous peoples, struggles of Mexican-Americans in the southwest after the US took that land from Mexico, current immigrant struggles, and so on and so on within the boundaries of the United States.   They were anti-colonial struggles as well. 

We will need all of these examples of courage, strategy, leadership, and fortitude in the years ahead. 

 

Ally: I would like to know about your entire experience as an activist. What has changed for you in activism? Has anything changed at all?

Mab: My entire experience as an activist stretches over thirty-five years.  I started off in North Carolina as a member and creator of a lesbian-feminist magazine Feminary, whose subtitle explained it put forth a “lesbian vision for the South.”  What we meant was that we were lesbians who were not leaving the South because of its repression of gay, lesbian, bi people; but staying to work in our homes for more inclusive and just cultures.  To do so, we would have to understand the legacies of slavery and native genocide as they interacted with women’s issues — which we came to understand more broadly as issues of gender — and sexuality.  In the 1980s I organized with North Carolinians Against Racist and Religious Violence as a staff person figuring out how to combat a virulent Klan and neo-Nazi movement in the state.  In the 1990s I worked with the World Council of Churches and from 2002 to 2014 I taught Gender and Women’s Studies at Connecticut College.  Much has changed over these decades — they have been mainly marked by a fierce battle of people working and fighting for a broadening of civil and human rights in the United States, and people who do not want to give them to us.  That struggle is at a crucial point with this administration, and much is at stake.

 

Ally: How has your experience as a writer who writes about things of this nature been? Have you been afraid of backlash from people close to you? 
Mab: It’s been great. I have met many new friends through my books.  I was very afraid of my family’s response to my first two books but they were miraculously supportive, even as I was criticizing them (and loving them). I was very glad not to get shot too.  

 

 

You can read more about Mab in the following links:

 

http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/segrestmab/

http://www.sinisterwisdom.org/SW93Supplement/Segrest

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/25663-activist-mab-segrest-discusses-civil-rights-history-of-structural-racism-in-the-us

 

You can read more about “The Radical South” on the following links:

http://southernstudies.olemiss.edu/center-partners-with-isom-center-for-radical-south-month/

https://news.olemiss.edu/um-lecture-series-examine-radical-south/

https://www.southernfoodways.org/the-radical-south-lecture-series/

 

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