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Keith Frazier Somerville  taught word recognition with her word Christmas tree in the 1920s.

Christmas primer donated to archives

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Keith Frazier Somerville and her husband made Cleveland their home in 1912 — despite the lack of a library. In the face of literary deprivation, she simply created a library. Local author Linton Weeks estimates that Cleveland’s first kindergarten was held at Somerville’s home just north of Jones Bayou Bridge on South Leflore Avenue.
“Somerville’s willpower and sense of conviction paired perfectly with her flair for crafting a story,” said Delta State University Archivist Emily Jones. “‘Christmas in the Primer’ is one example of the balance between Somerville’s love for writing and her resolve to fill a need. With the Christmas season upon us, sharing this curiously delightful piece from the Archives collections seems appropriate.”
A primer was a book used for teaching elementary children to read. The Delta State University Archives and Museum received Somerville’s primer as a gift from her granddaughter, Keith Dockery Derbes, who also donated other pieces written by her grandmother. Estimated to have been penned sometime in the 1920s, the book was an essential classroom piece for the teacher.
Somerville taught first grade at the Cleveland Consolidated School, which was the largest consolidated school of its kind in the world by 1926, wrote J.W. Parks.

“Christmas in the Primer” begins this way: “Away down South, in the land where the cotton grows, and the biggest consolidated schools in America flourish equally well, Christmas comes with a bang.”
Somerville would ensure that her class would glean every bit of knowledge she could impart and would have a cheerful time doing so. Keith Dockery McLean reflected on her mother.
“We had a creative and bright mother who dreamed up fascinating things for us to do,” said McLean.
There was much enthusiasm from the children as the weeks passed before Christmas. Naturally, the primer and first grade teachers took advantage of this enthusiasm to foster the most important of their subjects, primary reading and word recognition.

One creative way that Somerville taught word recognition was to create a word Christmas tree. In the book, she provides instruction on how to construct the tree and the word cards, as well as a variety of lessons on how the tree can be used for classroom instruction. Not one to simply choose words at random, Somerville consulted Thorndyke’s list of best known words in the English language for her students.
“This manuscript was a prized family treasure over the years, but it should also be noted that the photographs taken during those long-ago school days were also preserved,” said Jones. “Demonstrating the Christmas word tree are a few of the students from Somerville’s class. Tokens such as these items share our past with our present.
“The Archives & Museum is grateful for the generosity of our donors over the years as we now boast more than 360 collections of manuscripts, photographs, audio recordings, textiles, artwork and other pieces of Delta memorabilia. Thank you for sharing your history with us.”

For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/libraries/university-archives-museum/.

Virginia Thompson Collection

Virginia Thompson collection highlighted by Mississippi Digital Library

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Documenting letters from American war heroes with ties to Delta State is just one of the many things University Archivist Emily Jones has been up to lately.

Jones and graduate assistant Jessica Tubbs spent over 300 hours uploading the entire collection of letters sent to campus during World War II from former student-soldiers.

The compilation is titled the Virginia Thompson collection because most of the letters were addressed to Thompson, who served as the secretary to Delta State President William Kethley.

The assortment was recently featured on the website of the Mississippi Digital Library, www.msdiglib.org, and in its email newsletter. The site is dedicated to the state’s rich abundance of cultural and historical resources held by institutions and repositories.

“We have finally finished digitizing and have uploaded the entire Virginia Thompson collection,” said Jones. “Jessica created the metadata to make this collection searchable online.”

Throughout the process, Tubbs found numerous side stories that remind readers these letters are just moments in the lives of former student-soldiers. An example of Tubbs’ archiving is available at: http://deltastatearchives.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/one-man-one-name-one-book/

For the past three years on Veterans Day, volunteers have lent their voices to these letters at a public reading at the Capps Archives & Museum building on campus. Only a mere handful of letters from the enormous collection are read.

Jones said selecting which letters to read is akin to choosing a favorite friend to invite to lunch.

“It’s a hard decision. I’m just thrilled that the entire collection of letters are available for family members, alumni and all of our other friends to review at their leisure,” said Jones. “As we look to celebrate 90 years at Delta State, remembering and celebrating the gift of freedom secured by those who fought and served in the war effort will be made that much easier now that this collection is online.”

Jones added that she hopes the increased public access to the Virginia Thompson collection will encourage others in the Mississippi Delta to deposit their materials with the Delta State University Archives.

For more information, visit www.deltastate.edu/academics/libraries/university-archives-museum.

World War II: Mission VICTORY – Fighting the Air War

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The exhibit features selections primarily from the privately held collection of George R. Frisbee. Additional pieces are on loan from Clint Johnson. Mission VICTORY – The War in the Air chronicles America’s involvement in World War II from Pearl Harbor to the last days of war and its lasting affects on the world. Mr. Frisbee has painstakingly recreated a B-17G-70-BO named the “Milk Wagon.” This plane flew with the 708th Bomb Squadron, 447th Bomb Group at Rattlesden Air Base in England and was ready for its first mission on 21 June 1944 to Berlin. Pieces such as this with historic detail provide the basis for the exhibit. Among the photographs of nose art, soldier’s letters and historic documentation on the United State’s war efforts are four fully dressed mannequins wearing original and period specific flight crew suits and uniforms. From the helmets and gloves to the boots, these mannequins provide the opportunity for visitors to see what our soldiers were equipped with to face battles. Also on display is a tribute to Frisbee’s father, who served as a mechanic in World War II. The exhibit will be on display until 24 January 2014. For group or individual tours, please contact the University Archives at 662.846.4781. George Frisbee is available to give guided tours of the exhibit as well.

LaForge to partake in Veterans Day program at Capps Archives & Museum

Veterans Day program scheduled

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Volunteers, veterans and President William N. LaForge will read a selection of letters written during World War II in honor of Veterans Day on Monday.

The program will begin at noon in the Capps Archives & Museum building on the campus of Delta State. The public is invited to attend.

Those partaking in the public Veterans Day celebration at 11 a.m. at the Bolivar County Courthouse in Cleveland are welcomed at Capps Archives following the annual tribute.

“Most of the letters to be read come from the Virginia Thompson papers,” said Emily Jones, university archivist. “Ms. Virginia, as she was affectionately called by many, served as the secretary to President William Kethley. She would receive letters written to her and to Dr. Kethley and made sure each student soldier received a reply with a copy of the MS Delta newspaper.”
This event also marks the opening of the archive’s brand new exhibit, “World War II: Mission VICTORY – Fighting the Air War.” Co-curated by collector, George Frisbee, the exhibit features signature pieces from his private collection of Army Air Force memorabilia from World War II.

One of the three components of the United States Army, the AAF administered all parts of military aviation, which had formerly been distributed among the Army Air Corps.

“By the end of World War II, the AAF would become virtually independent of the Army and would become totally autonomous by September of 1947 when it would be renamed the United States Air Force,” added Jones.

This exhibit focuses on preparing for and conducting air combat missions. Featured memorabilia includes: full soldier gear, medals of distinctions, letters from prisoners of war, navigation equipment, original aircraft nose art, training manuals and cadet yearbooks. Posters and maps outline specific flight patterns and significant events in various World War II campaigns.

“The exhibit is arranged so that visitors can walk the path that so many young men and women took to become soldiers,” said Jones. “From cadet training in Greenville, Clarksdale, Grenada and Greenwood, to live action in the air over Europe, pieces of history share personal stories.”
The program will begin at noon in the Capps Archives & Museum building. The public is invited to attend. For more information, visit www.deltastate.edu/academics/libraries/university-archives-museum.