FSU Libraries, School of Communication form partnership with West Tallahatchie School District

(L to R) Davis Houck, Fannie Lou Hamer Professor of Rhetorical Studies, and Katie McCormick, associate dean for Special Collection and Archives. (FSU Libraries)
(L to R) Davis Houck, Fannie Lou Hamer Professor of Rhetorical Studies, and Katie McCormick, associate dean for Special Collection and Archives. (FSU Libraries)

Florida State University Libraries and the School of Communication have formed a partnership with the West Tallahatchie School District in Tallahatchie County Mississippi.

The partnership involves teaching the history of the Emmett Till case using primary source documents from the digitized Till Archives in FSU’s Special Collections. Students attending West Tallahatchie High School (WTHS) will access these documents for creative projects involving music, poetry, film, essays and other hybrid media. Awards, funded by the Emmett Till Archive Endowment, will be given to the best creative projects.

“I am delighted about this groundbreaking partnership to teach critical thinking through exploration of this pivotal moment in the history of the civil rights movement,” said Gale Etschmaier, dean of FSU Libraries. “The history of the Emmett Till case promotes an understanding of the deep-seated racial inequalities that are a part of our history and connects this history with current-day events to promote social justice.”

Davis Houck, Fannie Lou Hamer Professor of Rhetorical Studies and founder of the Till Archive Fund, worked with Germaine Hampton at WTHS to form the partnership.

“FSU is so grateful to have a partner like Germaine, who quickly moved to put our proposal before the full school board and spoke on its behalf,” Houck said. “We can’t wait to see the fruits of his stewardship.”

Hampton, who is in his 10th year at WTHS and is chair of the Social Studies department, sees new opportunities for his students.

“Emmett Till’s horrific kidnapping and murder highlights the Mississippi Delta’s and the nation’s problematic racial history,” Hampton said. “As a result of Florida State University and West Tallahatchie School District’s joint venture, students will have access to FSU’s one-of-a-kind archival records.”

Students at WTHS also will have access to filmmaking and editing equipment housed at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner. “The Center is excited about the partnership between FSU and the school district,” said Ben Saulsberry, museum director at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center and a WTHS graduate. “We believe this project will have lasting benefits for the students, families and West Tallahatchie community by creating ways to implement critical thinking concerning the complicated legacies of Emmett Till.”

Tallahatchie County is home to the Emmett Till Interpretive Center and Museum and to the renovated county courthouse where the Till murder trial took place during September 1955. Webb, Mississippi, where WTHS is located, is the hometown of Till’s mother, Mamie Carthan Till Mobley, who was born there in 1921.

The FSU-West Tallahatchie partnership will commence in fall 2021.

For more information about the Emmett Till Archives, visit guides.lib.fsu.edu/Till.