Exhibition Review: “Against All Odds: The First Black Legislators in Mississippi” from the Mississippi State University Libraries

Exhibition Review: "Against All Odds: The First Black Legislators in Mississippi" from the Mississippi State University Libraries

Exhibition Review: “Against All Odds: The First Black Legislators in Mississippi”, from the Mississippi State University Libraries

Library Exhibitions Review, Issue 1, March 2023

Reviewed by
Jacob Lackner Teaching and Learning Librarian
Oxford College of Emory University

Against All Odds delivers a comprehensive guide to the men who served as the first Black representatives in the Mississippi legislature. The introductory text to the exhibit notes:

“Many came to Mississippi to help their Southern brothers and sisters build a more just government, and many were driven out by violence only a few years later… The vast majority, however, faded into obscurity, just as the white supremacist power structure wanted.”

This exhibit seeks to address this injustice by making these stories accessible to today’s audiences, many of whom live far away from the Mississippi State University Libraries.

Individual pages for each legislator make up much of the exhibit. Legislator pages range in length depending on the amount of historical information available. The author notes in her introduction that she prioritized researching lesser-known figures and provides links to existing works on names with more attention in the historical landscape. Some pages have extensive biographies, links to scans of newspapers, additional reading, and so on. Some are much briefer, reflecting the paucity of what we know-perhaps less than a paragraph. The legislator pages are supplemented by a list of legislators distributed by county, a page for sources and further reading, and a page about press coverage and miscellaneous information. Nothing feels incomplete or frustrating as a reader.

On the technical front, the project is a success as well. The introduction includes a content warning, a link to the author’s work email, and a note that the project is ongoing as more information is gathered. The legislator pages are listed alphabetically, and the user does not have to navigate any extraneous menus. Each image has an individual page with complete metadata, and a transcript of the text. The descriptions give dates, creator, title, and subject information. The design of the exhibit is clean and straightforward and should be easy for most to navigate. However, the images do not currently feature alt text, which is an accessibility concern to take into account. The website features a header graphic and the historical photos, but otherwise, text is the focus. The designer resisted the temptation to over-design the graphics, and this decision ultimately makes for a better user experience.

Against All Odds has considerable pedagogical value. Instructors can use this exhibit first to teach the stories of these people, and then to talk about how we tell those stories. History is always incomplete-sometimes intentionally so-and this website is an excellent example of the work it takes to recover the past. Students could compare the more obscure to the more well-documented and discuss why so many records might be missing. The direct breakdown into distinct biographies means that an instructor could easily assign one or two legislators to each student for analysis and discussion, possibly paired with content from the sources and further reading section. The website itself can be used as an example of how researchers are using technologies for wider impact and to address historical wrongs. Students could reflect on how they would use technology to fight for justice.

This exhibit could create a considerable impact for students, teachers, researchers, and anyone curious about Mississippi history. The ease of use and resources gathered make for quick and comprehensive learning. We should lament the history we have lost, but we can in turn celebrate the stories that survived.


Baldwin, DeeDee. “Against All Odds: The first Black legislators in Mississippi,” Against All Odds: The first Black legislators in Mississippi, Mississippi State University Libraries, Accessed 2023, http://msstate-exhibits.libraryhost.com/exhibits/show/legislators

Mississippi State University Libraries, screenshot of George Washington Chavis page of the digital exhibit “Against All Odds: the first Black Legislators in Mississippi” DeeDee Baldwin, screenshot, Mississippi State University Libraries, February 20, 2023. http://msstate-exhibits.libraryhost.com/exhibits/show/legislators/george-washington-chavis–warr

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