The Hill Country Project began as an oral history project conducted by former civil rights organizers who worked in north Mississippi. Originally, it focused on the history of race relations in Benton County, Mississippi, located in north Mississippi's "hill country." Based on conversations with residents during and after the filming of their oral histories, the topic of Benton County's current economic condition invariably was raised.
Four decades after the civil rights movement, the county remains poor, farming has become increasingly unprofitable, jobs are scarce, and large amounts of young people need to migrate out of the county to find work. There is, however, great potential in Benton County: a large base of small landowners who have strong family ties and whose lives are centered on the local churches. Much of the county is pristine national forest that could attract tourism. School performance in the county is on the rise. Memphis, a rapidly developing job center, is less than an hour away, and two major highways that run through the northern part of the county. Most importantly, a core group of Benton County citizens, many of them veterans of the civil rights movement there, remain organized and active in the community and work closely with the Hill Country Project.
Our mission for six years (2007-2013) focused on oral history, education support, and economic development. Local entrepreneurs have now assumed a larger role in economic development.
HCP will continue our collaborative role with the county. But time constraints and the achievement of some successes in the county dictate a narrowing of our mission. Our future thrust will concentrate on completion and utilization of the more than 80 or more oral history tapes which HCP has recorded to capture the comments and experiences of Benton County residents who grew up during the southern civil rights movement, and earlier. This unique material will provide the basis for short but informative videos, and longer documentary films, which capture the perspective of those committed Benton county residents who laid the foundation for the changes that are impacting Benton County and the State of Mississippi. This material can also be used to help inform students as part of the curriculum development for the civil rights course mandated by the state of Mississippi, and for a book based on the stories collected from local people.
We helped launch BCEA four years ago as the local organization through which we could provide technical assistance (not unlike the Citizens Club which was provided organizing assistance by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in the ‘60s).. The organization is now independent and we hope it will continue to grow and sustain itself over time.
We are especially pleased with the improvement made by the Benton County school system. Recent test results show that Ashland High School has improved from an F to a B, the most change in the county and perhaps one of the best in the state.
The Hill Country Project is a non-profit 501(C) 3 organization located in Benton County, Mississippi. We record the stories of the residents of Benton County who have lived through the modern Civil Rights Movement and beyond and provide education support to the local school district.