Jay Wilson, a history instructor on the Grenada Campus, was selected as the 2018-2019 Holmes Community College Humanities Teacher of the Year. He will deliver his scholarly presentation, "Mississippi's Monumental Men: Jefferson Davis and J. Z. George," on Thursday, February 21 at 2 p.m. in the Corey Forum on the Grenada Campus. The lecture is free and the public is encouraged to attend. A reception will follow the presentation.
The Humanities Teacher Awards recognize the contributions of humanities faculty at each of the state's colleges and universities. Nominations are made by the college or university president or humanities dean.
"For the last several years there has been much discussion of many of the public monuments raised early in the last century," Wilson said. "A common refrain from the defenders of these monuments and statues has been 'Leave them alone, they are history,' but the majority of people that say this seem to have a limited knowledge of the history they claim to be protecting. They often don't even know what they really mean, why they were really put up and who put them up.
"As Faulkner said, 'The past is never dead. It's not even past.' Southerners are sort of stuck on history and we don't view it as history; we see it as part of who we are today. In North Carolina, the 'Silent Sam' Confederate monument at Chapel Hill was taken down, and there's a petition at Ole Miss right now to remove the statue to the University Greys. Then of course there's been the ongoing debates about the state flag and the defense, almost uniformly, has been that it's not hate, it is history. The people that say that, though, if you can ask them to tell you about that history, they usually can't answer.
"With the presentation here it's not my goal to convince anybody of anything, either way. I'm not coming out as an anti-monument person or a pro-monument person. I just want people to stop and think. With that in mind, this presentation is aimed at recounting the history of the two men memorialized by Mississippi in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C.; Jefferson Davis and James Z. George. These statues were donated by Mississippi in the 1930s, are standing in the nation's capital and were supposed to represent the two Mississippians who have contributed the most and best represent what Mississippi is.
"While I'm okay with the idea that maybe in 1933 those two men represented what most Mississippians thought our state was, or should be, this isn't the same state it was 100 years ago. We certainly don't have the same society that we did. Congress has recognized that several states might have made submissions to the collection that they regret so they changed the law to allow them to change out their statues to people more representative of everybody.
"People walk through the nation's Capitol and they see Virginia's got George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Kansas has got Eisenhower, and then they get to Mississippi and we've got Jefferson Davis, who most everybody recognizes and probably has a negative opinion of, and J.Z. George, who quite honestly nobody's heard of unless you live in Carroll County and your children went to J.Z. George High School. George's claim to fame was being the guy who single-handedly came up with what historians referred to as the Mississippi Plan, a way to disenfranchise African-Americans to make sure that white men got to vote and black men did not get to vote, maintaining Democratic Party control of southern states. I just think folks need to have an awareness of what we as a state are using as representation of great men."
He has such a strong knowledge of history and finds interesting ways to share that knowledge with his students.
A member of the Holmes family since 2014, Wilson teaches U.S. History and World Civilizations and serves as an academic advisor for history, pre-law and criminal justice students in Grenada. Prior to joining the Holmes faculty, Wilson taught at Winona High School, Mississippi Delta Community College and J.Z. George High School. He also served as a company officer for the City of Greenwood Fire Department and as assistant to the executive director of Cottonlandia Museum in Greenwood.
Wilson also served as a soldier in the U.S. Army from 1986-1992. He was a canon crewman and later a fire direction specialist in a field artillery battalion in the Mississippi National Guard, then activated to federal service during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. He even received an Army Achievement Medal for meritorious service in Desert Storm, in 1991.
A man of many achievements, Wilson is a member of multiple honor societies, was named a STAR Teacher at Winona High and was named a William Winter Scholar by the Natchez Literary Council in 2016. He holds a specialist in educational leadership and administration from the University of Mississippi, a master's in history education from Delta State University, as well as a bachelor's in history from Delta State.
"Jay has been a great addition to the faculty at Holmes," said Grenada Campus Academic Dean Dr. Myra Harville. "He has such a strong knowledge of history and finds interesting ways to share that knowledge with his students. He is always willing to teach whatever course I ask him to teach and, for an administrator, that is a real blessing."
Outside of teaching, Wilson is an avid hunter, fisherman, gardener, reader and gamer.
"I love to be outdoors; I'm a country boy who grew up on a farm," Wilson said. "Let me hunt until the season is over then I'm ready to fish. I also love gaming of all kinds; video games, board games, card games, you name it."
Wilson and his wife, Kristy, have five adult children: Hunter, Christopher, Katherine, Katie and Courtney.
After presenting his lecture at Holmes, Wilson will be recognized by the Mississippi Humanities Council at the 2019 Public Humanities Awards Gala in Jackson.