ACADEMICS | Linda Bannister’s 35-year career at LMU has left a legacy of scholarship, student engagement and teaching excellence. She was awarded the 2017 Rains Award for Excellence in Service and department colleagues estimate that she has mentored and advised 5,000 English and journalism students over the course of her career. Bannister is also an award-winning playwright whose work centers on social justice, race, and civil rights themes. Her most recent play, “One Sunday in Mississippi,” written with her longtime co-author and late partner, James E. Hurd Jr., will be published by Marymount Institute’s Harriet Tubman Press this month. Bannister founded the Journalism Program in 2002 and directed it for 14 years. In that time, the program grew from a modest “pre-journalism curriculum” into one of the university’s most popular minors, attracting students from every college and school. In fall 2018 a journalism major launches. LMU This Week talked to Bannister about her work.
LMU This Week: Regarding your most recent play, “One Sunday in Mississippi,” what drew you and James to the subject of the three murdered civil rights workers in 1964?
Linda Bannister: I mentioned Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney and Freedom Summer 1964 in an LMU course I was teaching and not one of the students, all of whom had studied American History, had heard of them. I decided that had to change.
LTW: Does the story have significance for today’s political climate?
LB: Unfortunately, their story has perhaps more resonance than ever, since voting rights were and are again under attack in America, particularly in the South, in 1964 and in 2018. Recent legislation has made it more difficult to vote, particularly for Black, poor, and less well-educated Americans – the very freedoms that Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney joined the Civil Rights movement to protect.
LTW: Do you have plans for a premiere of “One Sunday in Mississippi”?
LB: Scenes from “One Sunday in Mississippi” will be performed at our Book Launch Celebration on Feb. 28, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. in the Marymount Institute. A dream premiere/full production would be at the Mark Taper Forum, the Kirk Douglas Theater, or the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.
LTW: What is the significance to having Harriet Tubman Press on LMU’s campus?
LB: The Harriet Tubman Press specializes in publishing work about the Black American experience by Black American writers. “One Sunday in Mississippi” is the second book to be published by the Harriet Tubman Press. I know James Hurd would be as thrilled and proud of this honor as I am.
LTW: Has the journalism program lived up to the expectations you had when you started it?
LB: I think the Journalism Program has grown in ways I dreamed it would, and has even begun to outstrip those dreams.
LTW: What are your hopes for the program in the future?
LB: We have hired some terrific full-time journalists/professors: Evelyn McDonnell, Ruben Martinez, and Kate Pickert, and are about to hire a fourth full-time journalism professor. These are committed journalists and writers who will continue to inspire our students. They are the embodiment of my hopes for the program in the future.
LTW: The current journalism climate has been stormy, yet more students are showing interest in the minor program; how do you stay encouraging?
LB: It’s easy to stay encouraging when the need is so great. In an era when “fake news” accusations and “alternative facts” have found traction, the work of the trained journalist is critically important.
LTW: You’re retiring this semester; what’s the biggest change, or changes, you’ve seen at LMU during your tenure?
LB: There have been so many, but what’s at the heart of the place and the people, commitment to the life of the mind, human rights, and the arts is what has sustained me, and what will always characterize LMU.