Presenters and Their Backgrounds

Rolando Herts

Dr. Herts is a native of the Arkansas Delta region.  He was recently selected as an Executive Academy Fellow with the Delta Regional Authority’s Delta Leadership Institute after his first year directing The Delta Center and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. Previously, he served as Associate Director with the Office of University-Community Partnerships at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. As a Leadership Newark Fellow, he was presented the Berkowitz Distinguished Service Award for his commitment to the Greater Newark community. He also is a former Teach For America Mississippi Delta corps member and a former Emerging Engagement Scholar with the Engagement Scholarship Consortium. Dr. Herts holds a Ph.D. in planning and public policy from Rutgers Graduate School-New Brunswick. He also holds a M.A. in Social Science from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in English from Morehouse College. His interest areas include university-community engagement and partnership development, community-based tourism planning, place branding/marketing, and regional development.

Edgar E. Smith

Edgar E. Smith, Ph.D., was born in Hollandale, Mississippi. At age twelve, his family moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he was graduated from Bowman High School in 1951. His post secondary education includes a B.S. degree (1955) from Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, Mississippi; and M.S. (1957) and Ph.D. degrees in Biochemistry (1959) from Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana.

      Dr. Smith has held the following professional positions during the development of his career: Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant, Department of Biochemistry, Purdue University; Research Fellow in Surgery (Biochemistry), Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Research Associate in Surgery (Biochemistry), Harvard Medical School; Associate Professor of Surgery (Biochemistry), Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts; Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Boston University School of Medicine; Associate Dean of Minority Student Affairs, Boston University School of Medicine; Associate Professor of Biochemistry , University ofMassachusetts School of Medicine, Worcester, Massachusetts; Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, University ofMassachusetts School of Medicine; Provost, University of Massachusetts School of Medicine; Professor Emeritus, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Massachusetts School of Medicine; Vice President for Academic Affairs. University of Massachusetts System (3 Campuses); Interim President, Tougaloo College (January 1, 1995 - August 31, 1995); Program Director, Statewide Area Health Education Centers Program, and Professor of Family Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center. Currently, he is retired and serves as Senior Advisor to Tougaloo College President Beverly W. Hogan.

      Dr. Smith was a Purdue University National Foundation Fellow in 1958, and a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow at the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, Washington D.C., 1977-78.  He has served as a consultant to a number of national organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the National Science Foundation, the American Association of Colleges, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

      He is the recipient of a number of awards, includinghonorary degrees from the Morehouse School of Medicine, which he helped found, the University of Massachusetts, Tougaloo College, and Morehouse College.  Dr. Smith’s research was in the areas of cancer biochemistry and sickle cell anemia, the results of which have been published in several professional journals.  He enjoys playing tennis and listening to the blues. He is a member of the Mississippi Blues Commission and theBoard of Directors of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. Currently, he serves as a co-instructor of a course on the blues at Tougaloo College.  He has been married to the former Inez Oree' Wiley for the past 55 years and they are the proud parents of four sons.

John Byron Strait

Dr. John B. Strait is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas who specializes in urban and social-cultural geography.  His main research and teaching interests lie at the intersections of racial and ethnic identity, labor market dynamics and the spatial realization of socioeconomic disadvantage.  He also has strong interests and teaching expertise in the geographies of music and religion and has broad interests in two geographic regions; the U.S. South and Latin America and the Caribbean.  He is presently researching the spatial dynamics of hip hop culture and rap music.   He is also currently engaged in an investigation of neighborhood-level factors that influence disparities in infant mortality among racial and ethnic groups.  Dr. Strait has directed or been involved with a number of teaching workshops or institutes that focus on developing educational curricula that incorporate the aforementioned topics and interests.

David Evans

David Evans has been performing country blues (vocal and guitar) since 1962, having learned directly from many southern blues musicians of an older generation. Much of this learning was gained in the course of field research on the country blues tradition, beginning in 1965. Evans is currently Professor of Music at the University of Memphis and has taught on a visiting basis at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of Tommy Johnson (1971), Big Road Blues: Tradition and Creativity in the Folk Blues (1982) and The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Blues (2005), along with many other publications, and he has produced many field and studio recordings of blues, gospel and folk music.

Evans’ first musical partner was the late Alan Wilson, who went on to become a member of the blues-rock group Canned Heat. Since 1980, Evans has toured in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland as a guitar accompanist to Jessie Mae Hemphill, Hammie Nixon, Johnnie Shines, and Jack Owens, and has made solo tours in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, England, Poland, Latvia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela, including many major festivals. He has also performed at many clubs, concerts, and festivals in the United States over the years, both as an accompanist and soloist.

Evans is also a member of the Last Chance Jug Band, a five-piece group based in Memphis that since 1989 has recreated the sounds of that city’s jug band tradition. They have performed in a number of Mid-South and national concerts and festivals and have twice been featured artists on the nationally-syndicated radio program Beale Street Caravan.  The band consists of Evans (vocals, guitar, kazoo), Dick Raichelson (piano), Elmo Lee Thomas (harmonica), Clint Wagner (violin/banjo/mandolin), and Keith Padgett (jug, washboard, tambourine, percussion). Evans has also performed at concerts and festivals in the United States and abroad with harmonica partners Jobie Kilzer, Elmo Lee Thomas, Joe Filisko, and Little Victor (France).

Evans has presented country blues guitar workshops and lectures at many venues in the United States and abroad, often in conjunction with concert and festival appearances. A list of lecture topics is available separately.

Evans has recorded Match Box Blues (Inside Sounds ISC-0514, 2002) and Needy Time (Inside Sounds ISC-0532, 2007) and has tracks on anthologies released in Germany, Venezuela, and the United States. The Last Chance Jug Band has released a CD, Shake That Thing! (Inside Sounds ISC-0501, 1997), featuring Evans on vocals, guitar, and kazoo. He has also played guitar on records of Jessie Mae Hemphill and Hammie Nixon released in the United States, France, and Australia.

Contact Information: David Evans, 3046 Jericho Rd., Millington, TN 38053, USA; or Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152, USA; telephone: 901-872-6299 (home), 901-678-3317 (office); fax: 901-678-3096; e-mail:

Lee Aylward

Lee Aylward is a transplant from the hills of Mississippi to the Delta.  Education and learning were instilled in her early, and she tried almost all of the universities in Mississippi and the University of Alabama in order to further that education.  Reading has always been paramount to her. It is this love of reading that prompted her to get both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Library Science, and she went on to get certification in Reading.  Since graduating from college, she has been a mother, administrator of a U.S. Army education center, a public librarian, a school librarian, reading teacher, real estate agent, and finally an associate in the Delta Center for Culture and Learning where she coordinates community outreach and education.

Charles McLaurin

Charles R. McLaurin, was born in Jackson, Mississippi where he received his early education in the Jackson Public Schools and attended Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State Universities, studying Political Science and Black History.

In 1961, McLaurin attended a mass meeting at the Masonic Temple in Jackson to see and hear a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Inspired by Dr. King, the next day McLaurin joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC, and took part in Boycotts, sit-ins, picket demonstrations and voters registration drives in Jackson, Mississippi.  Early in 1962, McLaurin, was recruited to participate in an intensive training program preparing for a massive voter registration campaign in the Mississippi Delta.  McLaurin and two other SNCC organizers [Landy McNair and Charlie Cobb] came to Ruleville, in Sunflower County to mobilize black leadership, hold meetings on voter registration and to get persons 21 years and older to the court house in Indianola in an attempt to become registered voters.  After the first organized bus trip to Indianola, McLaurin met Fannie Lou Hamer, who had a beautiful singing voice, and was very out spoken.  These were the attributes that caught the attention of the national Civil Rights leadership.

In 1963, McLaurin served as campaign manager for Fannie Lou Hamer in her bid for Congress from the second congressional district.  In 1964 McLaurin was a MFDP [Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party] Delegate from the Delta to the National Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  McLaurin also directed the 1964 COFO [Congress of Federated Organizations] Freedom Summer Project in Sunflower County.  During the Freedom Summer Project, McLaurin and Mrs. Hamer became close friends and worked together until her death in 1977 on many social and political projects in Mississippi.

McLaurin was arrested and jailed more than thirty (30) times for his voter registration and for refusing to obey Jim Crow segregation laws in Mississippi.

After more than 20 years on the front of the Civil Rights movement.  McLaurin now makes his home in Indianola, currently employed as Assistant Public Works Director for the City of Indianola.  He is married and he and his wife Virginia have 3 sons and 2 grands.

Charles Reagan Wilson

Dr. Charles Reagan Wilson is a retired professor from the University of Mississippi.  He received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from the University of El Paso and his PhD from the University of Texas.  During his academic experience, he was the Kelly Gene Cook Sr. Chair of History, Professor of Southern Studies, and the Director of the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.  He is the author or editor of twelve books and many articles dealing with the religion of the South.  He has presented at conferences around the world on the same subject.


  • Bachelor of Arts, 1970, Masters of Arts, 1972, University of Texas      at El Paso
  • Ph.D., University      of Texas at Austin
  • Professional Experience:
  • Kelly Gene Cook Sr. Chair of History and Professor of      Southern Studies, University       of Mississippi, 2007
  • Director, Center of the Study of Southern Culture and      Professor of History, University of Mississippi,      since 1998; Professor, History and Southern Studies, University of      Mississippi, 1981-98; Director, Southern Studies Academic Program,      1990-98.
  • Visiting Professor of History, Texas Tech University,      1980-81
  • Lecturer and Instructor, University of Texas      at El Paso, 1978-80
  • Visiting Professor, University of Wuerzburg, Germany,      1977-78


  • Flashes of a      Southern Spirit: Meanings of the Spirit in the South (Athens:      University       of Georgia Press,      May 2011)
  • Southern      Missions: The Religion of the American South in Global Perspective (Waco, Tex: BaylorUniversity Press, 2006)
  • Editor in chief, The      New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, vols. 1-24 (Chapel Hill, N.C.:      University of North Carolina Press, 2004-2013)
  • Judgment and      Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from      Faulkner to Elvis (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1995, 2nd      ed. 2007)
  • Baptized in      Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1980, 2nd      ed. 2009)
  • Coeditor with William Ferris, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (Chapel Hill: University of      North Carolina Press, 1989)
  • Coeditor with Mark Silk, Religion and Public life in the South (Walnut Creek, Calif.:      AltaMira Press, 2005)
  • Editor, with Douglass Sullivan-Gonzales, The South and the Caribbean (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000)
  • Editor, with Randall Miller and Harry Stout, Religion and the American Civil War      (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)
  • Editor, The New      Regionalism (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997)
  • Editor, Religion      in the South (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985)
  • Series Editor, Cultural      Perspectives on the American South, 1985-1991


“Mississippi Rebels: Elvis Presley, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the South’s

Culture of Religious Music,” Southern Quarterly (Winter 2013)

“’Just a Little Talk with Jesus’: Elvis Presley, Gospel Music, and Southern Spirituality,” Southern Cultures (Winter 2006)

“Self-taught Art, the Bible, and Southern Creativity,” in Sacred and Profane: Voice and Vision in Southern Self-taught Art, eds. Carol Crown and Charles Russell (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi 2007).

“Southern Religion(s),” in Blackwell’s Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American South, eds. Richard Gray and Owen Robinson (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004)

“The Larger Context: Visionary Art and Southern Cultural Creativity,” in Coming Home: Southern Visionary Art, ed. Carol Crown (Memphis: University of Memphis, 2004)

“Apocalypse South,” in Reverend McKendree Long: Picture Painter of the Apocalypse, eds. David Steel and Brad Thomas (Davidson, NC: DavidsonCollege and the North CarolinaMuseum of Art, 2002)

“Religion Making the South,” Atlanta History (Winter 2000)

“Creativity and Southern Culture,” in Visualizing the Blues: Images of the American South, ed. Wendy McDaris (Memphis: Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 2001)

“The South’s Lost Cause,” in The Grand Review: The Civil War Continues to Shape America(York, Pennsylvania: Bold Print, 2000)

“Defining Identities: Landscapes of Southern Memory,” in Remembering the Individual/Regional/National Past, ed. Waldemar Zacharasiewicz (Tubingen: Stauffenberg, 1999)

“Flashes of the Sprit: Creativity and Southern Religion,” Image (Fall, 1999)

“White Throne Judgment,” in Wonders to Behold: The Visionary Art of Myrtice West (Memphis: Mustang Publishing, 1999)

“The Myth of the Biracial South,” in The Present State of Mind, ed. Jan Gretlund (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999)

“My Journey toward Southern Religious Studies,” in Autobiographical Reflections on Southern Religious History, ed. John B. Boles (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001)

“Religion and Civil War in Comparative Perspective,” in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall Miller, Harry Stout, and Charles Reagan Wilson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)

“American Regionalism in a Postmodern World,” Amerikastudien (1997)

“The Burden of the Southern Future,” in The Changing American Countryside: Past, Present, and Future: Proceedings of a Conference Sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation November 20-December 1, 1995, ed. EmeryCastle and Barbara Baldwin (Rural Development Center at Oregon State University, 1996)

“The South, Religion, and the Scopes Trial,” Letters: The Semiannual Newsletter of the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities (Spring 1996)

“Death of Southern Heroes: Historic Funerals of the South,” Southern Cultures (Fall 1994)

“The Invention of Southern Tradition,” in Rewriting the South: History and Fiction, ed, Lothar Honnighausen and Valeria Gennaro Lerda (Tubingen and Basel: Francke-Verlag, 1993)


Recent Conference Papers and Lectures:

“Parallel Worlds: Alice Munro Country and the American South,” Canada and the

American South Conference, University of Vienna, Austria, September 2010

“‘Culture’ and ‘Civilization’ in the American South,” Southern Forum on Agriculture, Rural, and Environmental History, University of Southern Carolina, April 2010

“God’s Laughter: Religion and Southern Humor,” Natchez Literary and Film Celebration, February 2010

  • “The American South in Global Perspective,” University of Mainz, Germany, Tri-national Summer      School Conference, July 2009
  • The Morality-driven South: Populists,      Prohibitionists, Religion, and V.O. Key’s Southern Politics,” V.O. Key      Symposium, Fayetteville,       Arkansas, April 2009
  • “Reimagining Southern Studies: Time and Space, Bodies      and Spirits,” Keynote Address, French American Studies Association, Montpellier, France, June 2008
  • “Seeing and Hearing Religion in the Ozarks,” Ozarks Study Center, Missouri State University, April 2008
  • “Upon the Altar of the Nation,” Panelist, American      Society of Church History, January 2008
  • “The Religion of the American South in Global      Perspective,” Edmundson Historical Lectures, BaylorUniversity,      March 2006
  • “Religious Pluralism in the South,” AmericanChurch      History Society, Philadelphia,      January 2005
  • “The Premillenial South,” Apocalypse Now, Symposium, Museum of      Biblical Art, New York City, May 2005
  • “The South and Regional Studies,” Regional Studies      Symposium, Kansas City,      April 2005
  • “David Edwin Harrell and Southern Religious Studies,”      AmericanChurch History, January 2005
  • “The Southern Way of Life: The History of a Concept,”      VanderbiltUniversity, April 2004
  • “Southern Cultural Creativity,” Phi Kappa Phi Lecture      in Southern Studies, East       TennesseeState       University, October      2003
  • “Creativity in the South: A Living Legacy,” Natchez Literary and      Film Celebration, February 2002
  • “The South Goes Pop: Popular Culture and the American      South,” The Raymond B. Witt Lecture Series, University      of Tennessee at Chattanooga, January 2002
  • “The South’s Lost Cause and Religious Freedom,”      Center for the Study of Religious Freedom, VirginiaWesleyan       University, March      2001
  • “Racial Boundaries of Life and Death: Funerary      Traditions in William Faulkner,” American Studies Association Annual      Meeting, Detroit, Michigan, October 2000
  • “Space, Ritual, and the Southern Cultural Identity,”      International Conference on Space, University      of Bonn, Bonn, Germany,      August 2000
  • “The Southern Search for Transcendence,” Natchez Literary      Celebration, June 2000
  • “Religion and Southern Culture,” Arkansas      Historical Society Meeting, Springdale,       Arkansas, April 2000
  • “Culture and Experience in Becoming Southern,”      Keynote Address, Workshop on Regionalism, University      of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, March 2000
  • “Death and the Validation of Southern Evangelicalism,”      AmericanChurch History Society, January 2000
  • “Flashes of the Spirit: Religion and Southern      Creativity,” Image Conference, Millsaps       College, November      1999
  • “Revolutions and Revelations: Southern Religion and      the Millennium,” William Poacher Dubose Symposium, University of the      South, October 1999
  • “Southern Culture,” Cameron      College Lectureship, CameronCollege,      Oklahoma,      September 1999
  • “Telling Southern Stories,” Museum of Contemporary      Photography, Chicago,      February 1999
  • “What Does It Mean to Be Southern,” Art       Museum of WesternVirginia, Roanake, Virginia,      January 1999

Dale Killinger

In 2004, Dale Killinger was a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Oxford, MS.  He was assigned as the lead investigator into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.  He spent two years investigating the case; he uncovered much information on the case and found lost evidence about the case. His findings were forwarded to the Mississippi District Attorney’s Office for the Fourth District for review.  It was concluded that there was not enough evidence and most witnesses were deceased, so no indictments were handed down.

Mr. Killinger today is the Federal Bureau of Investigation Unit Chief of the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, Proactive Data Exploration Unit in Washington, D.C.

Lent Rice

Lent Rice is a retired special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  When the Emmett Till case was opened in 2004, Mr. Rice was called in to be of assistance to Mr. Killinger.  Mr. Rice is a native of Sumner, MS, and he knew many of the players in the case.  It was felt that he would be of valuable assistance to the case.

Today, Mr. Rice is the Director of Personnel and Internal Affairs for the DeSoto County, MS, Sheriff’s Office.

Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong, a life-long Deltan, was born & raised in Hollandale & Arcola, MS. She graduated from Deer Creek School and MSU with a degree in Landscape Architecture. After college, she returned to the Delta, married and had 3 children & now has 3 grandchildren.  Cathy and her husband, Raymond, operated the oldest Chinese Restaurant in Mississippi and finally closed the doors in 2007, ending an era of “family style Cantonese cuisine”. Cathy is very involved with the community, having been a member of different civic clubs, been on the board of many charitable organizations and her main focus now is the Greenville Chinese Cemetery Association, which has been in existence since 1928. Under her leadership, since 2000, land has been donated to the cemetery association and a perpetual fund is being generated for the constant upkeep of the 4 properties that belong to the association. Besides the cemetery, she is the Director of the Greenville Inn & Suites, a boutique hotel that once was the historic Levee Board building in downtown Greenville.

Reggie Barnes

Reggie Barnes, originally from Greenville, MS, was one of the first African-Americans to integrate the Greenville, MS, schools.  After high school he was one of the first African-Americans to attend Delta State University.  He went on to serve his alma mater as Dean of Students until he took the position of principal at Cleveland High School, Cleveland, MS.  From this position he was elected superintendent of the Tallahatchie County, MS, schools.  While in Tallahatchie County, he was involved with the making of the critically acclaimed documentaryLaLee’s Kin. After his stint there, he became the Superintendent of Schools in Bolivar County, MS.  Upon his retirement, he started his own consulting group the Excellent Group LLC which he operates today. Mr. Barnes is a speaker in much demand and he speaks to groups today all over the United States about his experiences in education and the Mississippi Delta.