Black History Preservation: MSU faculty members receive NEH grant to investigate field school, local cemetery

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Environmental portrait of Jordan Lynton Cox
Jordan Lynton Cox (Photo submitted)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—A new National Endowment for the Humanities grant is aiding four Mississippi State anthropology and archaeology faculty in the development of a hands-on, research field school for students to help preserve a historic Black cemetery in Starkville.

The $347,959 NEH Preservation and Access funding provides for recruitment of university students to research and help sustain the city’s Brush Arbor Cemetery with the grant’s principal investigator Jordan Lynton Cox, an assistant professor of anthropology in MSU’s Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures. She, along with co-principal investigators—AMEC faculty members Jesse Goliath, Shawn Lambert and Anna Osterholtz—will train students in archival, archaeological, historical and anthropological work to preserve this significant African American site—and others—through a community-based restorative model.

MSU students interested in the field program at Brush Arbor, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, can submit an application through March 19 at The cemetery, located at 517 University Drive, was used by the Black community in Starkville from the late 1800s to the mid-1950s, with the oldest marker dated 1882. The burial ground remains an important reminder of African American life in the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The project, “Developing a Decolonial Field School: Teaching Community-Engaged and Decolonial Collection and Preservation Methods through a Field School Approach,” aims to dismantle traditional academic hierarchical barriers to train future anthropologists. Students will learn Geographic Information System and Ground-Penetrating Radar analysis while also delving into archival searches and oral histories within the community. All analysis will be non-destructive, including GIS and GPR analysis.

Lynton Cox, a native of Brooklyn, New York, said that growing up outside of Mississippi, she often heard stories of the state’s troubled past and hopes, through this MSU effort, to “uncover lost African American voices from the past and highlight them.”

“This is a true and very difficult story, but it is not the only one,” Lynton Cox said. “Having this field school in Starkville provides us the opportunity to bring additional stories to the table—in particular the stories of African Americans in Starkville, their descendants, and the many local community organizations that advocate for communities of color here in Starkville. That is a critically important story for us to tell, and we are excited to play a part in telling it.”

Lynton Cox said the funding provides the foundation for the recruitment of a diverse student population to be a part of the field school.

“For many low income and first-gen students, summer is the time where they work to save up for the school year or assist their families,” Lynton Cox said. “They may not be able to afford a field school or take off the time to join unpaid. The funding from NEH will allow us to provide students with stipends and support to be able to engage in this amazing professional experience. This award also provides a crucial fiscal foundation for sustained research and preservation of the historic cemetery—a culturally important and deeply storied site. Our team is excited to add this new field school with which we can train cultural anthropology students while centering the marginalized yet invaluable story of an important site.”

Lynton Cox earned her Ph.D. in 2021 and her master’s degree in 2017, both in anthropology from Indiana University, Bloomington. She has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Central Florida. At MSU, Lynton Cox’s research investigates questions of racial/ethnic formation, transnationalism, diaspora, nationalism and political economy.

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