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Robertson Scholars, MS Delta NHA Civil Rights Heritage Archive Featured by NBCU

From left, Rolando Herts, Jenna Smith, Reena Evers-Everette, Chaunté Smith and Vishal Jammulapati, in Jackson, Mississippi, outside the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center on July 19, 2023.

Jenna Smith and Vishal Jammulapati spent the summer of 2022 driving around the Mississippi Delta, interviewing community servant leaders about the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in the Mississippi Delta. Smith and Jammulapati were working as Community Summer interns at the Delta Center for Culture and Learning as part of the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program at Duke University and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Robertson Scholars with the MS Delta NHA road sign on Highway 49W outside of Yazoo City.

Every year since 2006, the Delta Center has hosted these young scholars in person and even virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. In summer 2022, Smith and Jammulapati were tasked with developing the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area Civil Rights Heritage Archive Digital Storytelling Project . Launched in February 2023 in honor of Black History Month, now their work is being featured by NBCU Academy Equity Lab, a journalism and content creation training program within the NBC television broadcasting company.

“I really loved working with Jenna and Vishal last summer,” said Wayne Dowdy, Program Manager of MS Delta NHA, “I gave them some resources to introduce them to the Mississippi Delta and a few ideas for the project. They had a zoom call with Dr. Kevin Greene at the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at USM and he talked to them about best practices in oral history work. And then they just took off from there.”

The authors interview the Civil Rights Museum’s executive director, Pamela Junior, in Jackson, Mississippi, on July 18, 2023.

Over two months, these two Robertson Scholar Community Summer interns developed nine long form interviews with figures like Reena Evers-Everette, daughter of Civil Rights icons Myrlie and Medgar Evers; Malika Polk-Lee, executive director of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center; and Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton, daughter of Clarksdale activist Rachel Parker-Dear and founder of Family and Youth Opportunities Division in Clarksdale.

“Even though we were operating on a tight schedule, we consciously chose to not make our first interaction with our community partners be from behind a camera. Instead, we joined them for breakfast or visited them at their place of work. Not only did this give us the privilege of getting to know these changemakers, it also improved the quality of what we added to the archive,” wrote Jammulapati and Smith for NBCU.

Smith and Jammulapati also compiled an Education Resource Guide, outlining the readings and materials that shaped their approach to documentary work and oral history research. In their reflection, the Robertson Scholars say these readings taught them important lessons, “but the answers to these questions ultimately revealed themselves when we refocused on building personal relationships with the people we interviewed and listening with intention.”

“The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program is a valuable partnership between the Mississippi Delta and these visiting scholars. They bring energy and exciting new points of view to the region,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, Executive Director of MS Delta NHA. “Through cultural immersion, the scholars get to interact with and learn directly from the people of the Mississippi Delta. Jenna and Vishal approached this work with such humility, authenticity, and passion. We are so proud and thrilled that they are receiving this well-deserved national recognition from NBCU.”

You can read Jammulapati and Smith’s full article “Giving Voice to the Mississippi Delta,” on the NBCU Academy website. Click here to view the MS Delta NHA Civil Rights Heritage Archive Digital Storytelling Project.

The MS Delta NHA includes 18 counties that contain land located in the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi Delta: Bolivar, Carroll, Coahoma, DeSoto, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Leflore, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Warren, Washington, and Yazoo. The MS Delta NHA was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MS Delta NHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MS Delta NHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops. For more information, visit