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$4,456 pledged of $30,000 goal
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$4,456 pledged of $30,000 goal
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About

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Please help this support this important body of work. By doing so, you are helping preserve the voices of these strong, American women who live in the Mississippi Delta. They are called church mothers and they matter. Everyone here knows that and so should the rest of the world. You can help.

Donations will help provide their framed image to each mother as well as a copy of the book. If I meet my goal, it will also help provide books to every school in the Delta, as well as making it a traveling photo exhibit to various Delta towns, so the mothers who can't travel to the University of Mississippi, for my official book signing and exhibit.

When a pastor asks them to be a mother, he is giving them the highest respect. They organize church fellowship programs and mentor younger women in living a purposeful life - one full of integrity and dignity. These are strong, everyday women, who survived injustices of Jim Crow, who are the backbones to their communities and the matriarchs of their families. My book is a collection of poignant highlights from their lives in their words. 

It preserves part of their remarkable stories and the photographs bring them to life. Everyone should know their oral histories and that's why this project matters. By giving, you are helping create a traveling photo exhibit to various Delta communities and you are helping give the mothers a copy of the book. This is for them. 

On having Missus printed with her name in the telephone book:
"The telephone company wouldn’t put Missus by black folks’ names. Put your first name down there and that’s it in that book. So I went down there and told them, “Well now, you put the Missus for the white folks names and I’m a Missus too, I’m married too. They didn’t do nothing but change it. I don’t know if I was the first, but anyway, I had it done. When the next one (book) came out, it had my name like it was supposed to be written. If you can write those white folks names down as Missus, you can write mine Missus. It was just my name at the time. It didn’t really bother me, but I just after all, I’m married too. What’s the difference? That’s what I wanted to know. I’m just real vocal about things and I’ve never been, never stood back." 

The love she has for her husband: 
"Love. You talk about love? Mine was deep down. I reckon because I loved his style. I loved his style and he was wild about mine. When we get together and get to talkin, I thought he was just really beautiful, just cute. I just really loved the man. He wasn’t real tall and he wasn’t no fat neither, cause I never liked a big ole man. He dressed real neat and he talked real kind. Well, I wouldn’t say how my style was to him, but I knew I was cute. I knew I was because everybody would tell to me, ‘you is one, pretty young lady.’ And when he told me - I knew I was. And when he told me about it, oh, that made me feel really, really good. He had a stylish walk, I ain’t kiddin. That was the cutest walk and I loved that walk. That’s right. And he was kind, nice and kind. With that walk, he was mo better looking than that walk."

Mrs. Dilliard, 101, who refused to have her children work in the cotton fields, she wanted them to go to school. The overseer told her she couldn't have her black babies not working in the field or the other Blacks would try it, so he gave her ultimatum: move off the land and find somewhere else to live and work or have her children work in the field. So, she moved. 

Oh my, they have such rich stories - sad, hilarious, deep and profound. A wealth of history we that should listen to. Women who grew up as sharecroppers' daughters, who wanted to leave the cotton fields and show their children a different way of life. Education was everything to them and they made sure their children received the best education they could provide. We should honor these women.

It's so important to capture oral histories from our elders while they're still alive. We can learn from them and it's time to put these words to print. My grandmother passed away before I had the skills to document her, so I decided to honor her by featuring 50 Mississippi Delta church mothers from various towns and tell their stories. What I'm finding out is that these beautiful women are surprised someone wants to listen to their stories, as they're sharing history that even their children and grandchildren didn't know. 

The text and photographs are done solely by me, Alysia Burton Steele. I  have been a newspaper photojournalist, picture editor and deputy director of photography for over 16 years. I transitioned into teaching last year and love this new chapter of my life. I am proud to be part of the Pulitzer-Prize photo team from The Dallas Morning News for our Hurricane Katrina coverage in 2006. I served as a picture editor on the team. 

THE FINISHED PRODUCT: This high-quality, hardback book will feature two pages for each mother. One page features their photograph and the other page highlights poignant parts of their lives in their own words. This is primarily a photography book, but it's so much more, as I'm weaving in anecdotes and memories of my grandmother to make it a more personal experience for the reader. The sounds of these women's voices are so rich and powerful that I've decided to produce a multimedia/short film featuring three of the strongest women. 

Book: hardback, slipcover
approx. 200 pages
Images: black & white
dimensions: approx. 10 x12 inches
personal memoirs of my grandmother weaved in between stories
photographs and text by Alysia Burton Steele, and words by mothers.
Release: May/June 2014

HOW YOUR FUNDS WILL HELP:

This is an independent project. I've driven thousands of miles and am just shy of halfway done with interviewing the women. 

- The money raised will pay for gas to visit the women and for lodging on weekend reporting trips (I teach full-time and do this on weekends and days off), as most women live at least two hours away from me. 

- It will also pay for a book, as well as a framed 8x10 signed photograph of her image for each mother. Most of these women have very limited funds and I want to present them with tokens of appreciation. 

- Funds will allow me to make this a traveling photo exhibit in the Delta, so I can host it in various galleries near the women, many of whom can't travel.

- Funds will pay for gallery-sized prints for the official gallery opening.

- Funds will pay for hundreds of books to be donated to schools in the Delta so children read learn about this part of history.

- Funds will help pay for a picture editor, text editor and book designer.

- and if anything is left, funds will contribute to movie production costs. This is slated for release around May 2014 at the Gammill Gallery at the University of Mississippi. 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Donations of $30,000 allows for travel costs to interview/photograph the women AND book design and editing. Also pays for books and one printed and framed image to be given each of the women who are featured in the book. 

Donations in excess of $40,000 allows for a gallery prints to be made and framed and hundreds of books to be donated to schools in the Delta, so children can read these stories.

Excess of $50,000 allows for traveling exhibit to various towns in the Delta, so the locals who can't travel can see the images and remaining funds will contribute to production costs for short film.

Risks and challenges

The ultimate risk is if I don't get this done, these stories won't be told and we all lose out on an important part of American history. My goal is for the book release and gallery opening for Summer 2014, with a short film to be released shortly thereafter. One obstacle is getting funding so I can pay for gas/mileage to visit each woman. If I can't raise gas money to drive, it will slow the progress as I am paying for everything myself. I have two publishers interested in publishing the book, but they want pre-orders sold before they will invest. I teach full-time at the University of Mississippi and it takes time to travel to the women and write the book. It also depends on their health, as two women have been ill and postponed interviews and unfortunately one passed away the week I was to interview her. So, time is of the essence. HOWEVER, THE PROJECT WILL GET DONE. I NEED A PUBLISHER TO COMMIT TO PRINTING THE BOOK or I will print on demand.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    Every pledge of $10 or more receives a personal thank you note on my website for the Jewels project.

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    A postcard featuring one of the images from the book and a personal note of thanks.

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    8x10 professionally printed, archival b&w photograph of a woman featured in book. Backer chooses from selection of 10.

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    - A copy of the hardback book with a personal note of thanks and a postcard of my choosing from one of the women in the book.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    a 11x14 or 11x16 b&w professionally printed, archival print of a woman featured in the book (size depends on original image that best suits print size). Backer chooses from selection of 10.

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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    PRE-ORDERS OF THE BOOK. This pledge gives you TEN books!!! 10 books at half-off the retail price. The publisher interested in funding the project offered 75% off if I could have commitments for pre-orders.

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    Pledge $350 or more About $350

    A copy of hardback book with a special acknowledgement mention in book, a personal note of thanks, a limited edition 8x10 or 8x12 (size depends on image dimension) professionally printed, archival b&w print of backer's choice (choose between 10 images of the women in book)

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    A copy of the hardback book with a personal note of thanks, a special acknowledgment mention in the book, an 11x14 or 11x16 limited edition print (to choose between 25 images) and a dvd of the short film when it's completed.

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    KICKBACKER EXCLUSIVE: A full-page acknowledgment of thanks in the hardback book, a personal note of thanks, a copy of the book, a 16x20 limited edition professionally printed, archival b&w print of backer's choice (one of the 50 women in book) AND a dvd of the short film when it's completed.

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Funding period

- (60 days)