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Newly Processed Holdings in Special Collections Include USM, Hattiesburg Connections

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 02:29pm | By: David Tisdale

Fannie Kyker, a beloved Hattiesburg socialite; two former University of Southern Mississippi (USM) professors, including its first African-American faculty member, the late Dr John Calvin Berry, and Dr. David Berry, an accomplished poet; and Associated Press (AP) bulletins reporting the assassination of President John F. Kennedy are the focus of newly processed material in the Special Collections division of USM University Libraries.  

These collections are just a few of the examples of the many important aspects of Special Collections’ holdings, operations and relationship with the University and broader community, including researchers and those with interest in specific collections. These collections include personal and professional papers, correspondence, and photographs, among many other artifacts.

Special Collections faculty and staff working with these materials include Lorraine Stuart, head of Special Collections/Curator, Historical Manuscripts and Archives, and Carla Carlson, assistant curator, Historical Manuscripts.

Descriptions of the collections include the following:

*Dr. John Calvin Berry was born March 4, 1925 in Yazoo City, and served in WWII in the European African theaters in the 646 Quartermaster Truck Company. After serving two years in the war, Dr. Berry completed high school at Alexander High School in Brookhaven, Mississippi. He would later receive his Bachelor of Science degree from Alcorn State University. 

Dr. Berry began his career in education as a school administrator in Jones and Jefferson Counties, where he worked for 17 years. He later accepted the position as associate director of a U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) Title IV program based at USM. 

In 1970, Dr. Berry became the first African American faculty member at USM, when he became employed as an instructor of student teaching. While at USM, he would obtain a Specialist Degree in 1973 and a doctorate in 1976. Dr. Berry retired in 1985 as an associate professor of educational leadership and research.

“The Dr. Calvin Berry Papers, particularly, demonstrate how tied Special Collections is to the community of Hattiesburg as well as, of course, Southern Miss,” Stuart said. “Faculty papers are invaluable complements to the University Archives maintained by Special Collections. The fact that Dr. Berry was the first African-American faculty member give his papers an added significance for our university and our town.

“When Dr. Berry’s daughter, Patricia Blake, donated the papers last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting his granddaughter, Andrea, who is following in his footsteps. She is obtaining her Ph.D. in higher education here at USM, and was recently inducted into our Graduate School Hall of Fame. The papers were processed and made available for research within the year.”

*A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi and a veteran of the Vietnam War, Dr. David Berry served as a member of the USM Department of English faculty from 1972 to 2004. His papers include his correspondence, drafted writings and publications considered to potentially be of particular interest to researchers focusing the on writing process or studying university professorships and family life in the late 20th or and early 21st centuries. Topics in his poetry include the Vietnam War, marriage, divorce and religions.

Dr. Berry’s personal and professional correspondence donations date back to the mid-1960s, and contain not only information on his service in the Vietnam War and relationships with family and friends, but also reveals his poetic inspirations, including from the war, and his methodology for composition.


Other material in the Dr. David Berry collection includes those from such noted individuals as comedian Mack Dryden, Canadian journalist John Bentley Mays, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), and poet and author James Dickey.   

“Dr. Berry was a faculty member, as well as an accomplished poet. The papers of Mississippi poets is a collecting area I would like to prioritize in the next few years, because it complements our Mississippiana collection,” said Stuart. “U.S. military conflicts is another collecting priority; there is not a lot in Dr. Berry’s papers dating from his time in Vietnam, but, rather than maps or morning reports, there’s correspondence from someone who ultimately ‘documented’ the war in poetry.

“Interestingly, WWI servicemen created a lot of poetry about their experiences, but they seem to have been the last generation. It’s fortunate that Dr. Berry bucked the trend, as his poems on Vietnam are breathtaking.”

*A prominent Hattiesburg citizen with a reputation as an eccentric, Kyker was a graduate of Tulane University’s Newcomb College. Her parents were Dana H. Kyker and Leo Fortenberry Kyker, who owned Kyker Newsstand in downtown Hattiesburg. After graduating from Newcomb College, she worked as a translator for the International Trade Mart in New Orleans, and then later as a certified medical records librarian for hospitals in New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi.

Kyker was active in political and civic life, including running for the post of Hattiesburg city commissioner and well as working on campaigns of other candidates she supported, and volunteering extensively for the March of Dimes, following the death of a close friend who succumbed to infantile paralysis.

“Fannie Kyker’s Papers contain a wealth of photography. Of particular interest to me are the ones from downtown Hattiesburg in the 1930s, as I am gathering documentation on businesses operating in Hattiesburg from its early days through the 1970s,” Stuart said. “There are also postcards of Gulf Coast businesses which were destroyed by Hurricane Camille; the 50th anniversary is this month, so there have been a number of research inquiries about the storm.

“Most personal papers capture some essence of the person who created them. Although of less historical interest, the photos in this collection reveal Fannie Kyker, the person behind the “cat lady” image (Kyker was famed for her love of cats, as well as other animals), who lived much of her life as a bon vivant. There’s a photo of her that appears to be from her Newcomb College days that captures her dancing, sort of ‘mid-swing.’ There’s another photo of her in almost the same pose taken a good 50 years later, still clearly enjoying herself.”

*The collection of AP wire reports that feature news of the assassination of President Kennedy consists of one continuous roll of AP wire service bulletins regarding the event on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. The roll begins with the first news flash at 12:38 p.m. that Kennedy had been shot and seriously wounded, and continues for a number of hours until after the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald. Additional AP news bulletins in this collection, about the same event, are included.

“Recently, I pulled the AP wires from the day of the JFK assassination for a JUMP class that had an assignment on crisis communication,” Stuart said. “In introducing Special Collections to students, I usually make the point that there are often two stories to a collection – the story told by the materials themselves, and the story of the donating collector. Whatever the secondary story is for the AP wires is a mystery – which may be appropriate for the subject matter – because they came in years ago with a donation of 19th century Mississippi land records.

“For the class, I transcribed the first communication from that morning, which has become almost illegible, as preservation is an ongoing archival challenge, and read it for the class. All it said was “FLASH/KENNEDY/FLASH/KENNEDY SERIOUSLY INJURED/STAY OFF ALL OF YOU/OFF OFF. . .WILL YOU PLEASE STAY OFF THIS WIRE/STAY OFF/STAY OFF” That is all it really needed to say to convey the urgency of the situation, and how cataclysmic it was.

“That is what is fascinating about archives,” Stuart continued. “You never know what you are going to pull from a box that will take you back to a moment in time.” 

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