A History of Someone’s History about History in the Delta

A History of Someone’s History about History in the Delta

Nick Houston

Emily Jones, a Greenville native, knows a lot about the Delta, and she should. She’s been Delta State University’s Archivist for the past 14 years. The Delta Statement recently caught up with her to shed some light on herself as well as one of Delta State’s hidden gems: The Charles W. Capps Jr. Archive and Museum building.

How did you get to Delta State?

I graduated from Delta State with a degree in history in 1999 before going to graduate school at the University of West Georgia for public history. After that, I worked at the Atlanta Historical Society for a few years. When the position came open [at Delta State] to be an archivist in 2003, I applied and came back. I was also a student worker in the archives when I went to Delta State and knew I wanted to come back.

What sparked your interest with history?

I love history. I originally came to Delta State to be a pre-med major, but when I took a history class with Dr. Curt Lamar, a former history professor, I was fascinated with the way he presented history. The way the history department’s faculty members presented history was amazing. I knew I wanted history to be a part of my life, but I didn’t want to be a teacher or a lawyer, so Dr. Morgan, the chair of the history department at the time, took me aside and said, “Okay you’re going to have to somehow support yourself. Go over to the archives and see if they have a job.” After I received the position, I realized that I could become an archivist, something I’d never heard of before. Essentially, I could stay in the realm of history, but not have to teach it. Then, Dr. Morgan told me about the graduate program at West Georgia and the rest is history (no pun intended). It was by luck and happenstance, it was God ordained.

Tell me about your job, what do you do on a daily basis?

I spend maybe 10% of my day being the University Archivist. That means I’m responsible for Delta State University’s history that we created when we were first formed in 1924 all the way up to what our students, faculty, and staff are currently creating. This includes the emails they’re sending, the policies they’re adjusting—all of that is one day going to be the history of our university. I’m responsible for putting my finger on the pulse of all that and pull it together. But, that has been getting hard for me. A great example is when the decision came down that we were not going to print a yearbook in 2016, our yearbooks have been our key to our history and without them it’s going to make it my job much more difficult in the future. Going forward as a university, I need help to make sure that we have photographic and documented pieces of history that we can rely on. Unfortunately, we don’t see the material coming into the archive as much as I’d like to see it happen. Time is going to tell, but I see a vacuum of information. It’s going to be a hole of information  we’re not going to have in another 20 years. People are going to say “I went to school in 2016, do you have anything on that?”

How can Delta State help your efforts?

I’d love to have some kind of drop box system to where students can take pictures at an event by a Delta State photographer and then they would be grouped, identified and dropped over to the archives. Then, we would scoop them up and put them into the archive the way they should be. It’s just relying on our community to take some responsibility for documenting their own history, which is totally doable. Tons of papers and projects have been written on this subject. The real question is: Are our students, faculty, and staff interested enough in what they’re doing today to contribute to our history?

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is putting exhibits together. I love pulling artifacts out and putting them on display for people to engage with them. But, I also love the people that come in to explore these things. When people come in they leave with a little nugget of information whether it be about the 400 pound donut downstairs or the pivotal court case upstairs that talks about the Gong Lum case, which was the foundation for the Brown v. Board of education case. All this happened right here in the Delta and in Bolivar County.

What is the most interesting artifact in the archive that not a lot of people know about?

The Ms. Virginia Papers. Ms. Virginia was the secretary to Delta State’s second president, President William Kethley. In World War II, when we sent off a lot of Delta State students to war, Ms. Virginia became the “Facebook” for Delta State at the time. Student soldiers would write back to Ms. Virginia and talk about where they were, what they were doing, but they would also relate it back to what they thought the campus was going through at the time. One soldier writes about how he is at the Citadel and how beautiful the campus is there, but how nothing compares to spring at Delta State. To be compared to the Citadel, which is this bastion of education for soldiers, is astonishing. Delta State held that much more regard, in his mind, than the Citadel. Some of the authors of the letters did not come back but it is amazing to see the love of the Delta in those students and I wish that our current students had that same affection for the university that those kids did back then, but hopefully they do.

Why is the archive important to Delta State?

It is important that we value our history. Not a lot of institutions our size put resources behind a university archive. Plus the university allows me to collect the history of the Delta as well.

Do you have any plans to digitize some of the history in the archives?

Actually, we’ve already started that. You can find a lot of our history on the Mississippi Digital Library webpage.

What would you like to see for the future of the Archive Building?

I would love to see more funding. We have a lot of potential for undergrads and graduate students to write some amazing articles and lectures here. We have a wealthy resource of materials, but the problem is attracting interest. We would really be fulfilling the archive mission, established by Dr. Sammy Cranford, with more people to work on collections to reach out to students and encourage students to use the archive. Every day it runs through my mind: Would Dr. Cranford be happy with where we are? This is his brain child. He wanted to make this happen and he didn’t live long enough to see this building built, but he knew that it was coming. It is important to me that we do things that would make him happy and proud.


Upcoming Archive Events

  • An hour before every baseball home game and in between double-headers, the “Boo” Ferris Museum is open
  • March 21 – The travelling exhibit, “Lebanese in America”, will be open in Jobe Hall

April 2 – The Lucy Somerville Howorth Award – A brand new exhibit will be downstairs in the gallery at the Archive building.