Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom, Two Events with Alysia Burton Steele

By Chandra Allen

Scarritt-Bennett Center is excited to welcome Alysia Burton Steele on Friday, April 10 and Saturday, April 11.

On Friday, April 10 at 6:30pm we will host a lecture and book signing with Steele highlighting her newly released book: Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom. In an effort to honor her grandmother’s life and legacy, Steele undertook the project of interviewing over 50 African-American women of her grandmother’s generation in the Mississippi Delta and collecting their life experiences.

Oral history is a powerful tool of storytelling and documentation.   It allows voices and experiences an opportunity to live beyond their time and have far reaching effects.  Many of the stories that the women share with Alysia may have been lost if not captured in this way.  It is important to preserve these narratives, because they are an important part of our history and provide a unique perspective to past events.

Through her interviews, Alysia brings attention to what life was like for these women during the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow South.   In this way, oral history collection can also be a catalyst for social change.  It allows the voices of people whose stories are not often told to be heard, reach a larger audience, and live on for years to come.  These first-hand accounts of what life was like during this time period in the Mississippi Delta gives a rare glimpse in to each woman’s life as she remembers it.  Oral histories provide us a window into a life, a story, an experience.   It provides a way to connect with experiences and narratives that are not our own, but that touch us deeply and inspire us to promote change.

If done well, oral history puts the power in the hands of the storyteller and Alysia accomplishes this difficult task.  Through passion, experience, and technique, she makes the space for the voices of these women to come to the fore.

Join us on April 10 at 6:30 in Laskey Great Hall at Scarritt-Bennett Center to learn more about the women Steele interviewed for the book, her process of documenting these stories, and her travel adventures across Mississippi.


If you are interested in working on an oral history project of your own, be sure to register for Oral History 101: A Beginner’s Toolbox on Saturday, April 11 from 9:30pm-4pm.  The workshop is $50 ($25 for students and senior adults) and includes lunch.  During this workshop, Alysia will teach best practices for documenting oral history.  She will talk about equipment to use, interview techniques, and many other important tips needed to do an oral history project well.  If you ever wanted to document the story of your family, community, or organization – don’t miss this how-to workshop!

Both of these events are part of our “Phenomenal Woman: That’s Me” series, an annual celebration of the contributions of women in art, politics, religion, science and social justice inspired by the life and work of Maya Angelou.  We are currently accepting nominations for our inaugural “Phenomenal Woman: That’s Me” Awards and invite you to nominate a high school student, woman, or organization in our community.  For more information and awards descriptions, click here.

We hope you can join us for one or both events with Alysia Burton Steele this weekend.  To RSVP for the lecture and book signing click here and to register for the Oral History Workshop click here.


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Chandra Allen is a native Nashvillian. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in German from Davidson College in North Carolina and a Master’s of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is currently an Assistant Director of Education, Programs and Connections at Scarritt Bennett Center where she plans programs focused on women’s leadership and women’s empowerment. Chandra is passionate about creating an authentic environment where women and men gather to explore and awaken the strength of their voices, experiences and creativity to effect positive change in their communities and themselves. Contact Chandra at