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The W.A. Whitten Collection, 1962-1991

Biographical Note

Willie Amzie Whitten, Jr., was born on August 14, 1929, in a small rural community in Choctaw County, Mississippi . His formal education began at Weir High School, from which he graduated in 1946. He attended Mississippi College during the 1946-1947 academic year and served in the United States Army in 1947. Whitten married Anna Lucille Stinnett from Addison, Kentucky, on June 6, 1948. They enrolled in Mississippi College together in September, 1948, and graduated in June, 1951. Thereafter, Willie attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and received a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1954.

From 1956 to 1963, Whitten served as associate director of the Seminary Extension Department of the Southern Baptist Convention. His main duties were establishing and operating adult religious education learning centers in Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas. Other duties included curriculum development and the preparation of course-writing guides.

Whitten began a doctoral program in adult education at Indiana University in 1959. In 1963, while completing his graduate studies, Whitten accepted an assignment to Liberia with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to conduct research that would address the urgent educational needs of people living in traditional communities in rural Liberia. The goal of his research was to discover ways for educational leaders and other visitors to improve the use of town meetings for educational purposes. He found the research to be valuable not only in Liberia at the time, but in similar circumstances in other developing nations in the years that followed. His four-year assignment in Liberia provided a rare opportunity for Whitten and changed the direction of his dissertation research and his professional career. He graduated with a doctorate in education in 1966.

During the early stages of his research, Whitten began an informal collection of rice farming tools, musical instruments, small furniture and other artifacts and items that were in use by the traditional peoples with whom he worked. Priority was given to items commonly recognized, accepted and in actual use at the time. These items would form part of the W.A. Whitten Collection, which he donated to the Indiana University Liberian Collections in 2009.

Whitten received career status in the Foreign Service in 1965 while on assignment in Liberia, and was later commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer. During his career of nearly twenty-five years, he achieved the personal rank of FS-1 before retiring in 1987. Whitten had two assignments at USAID Washington and four separate assignments to foreign posts. The first was to Liberia, as described above. This was followed by two years in Tanzania from 1968 to 1970, two years in Afghanistan from 1970 to 1972 and a second assignment to Liberia for over three years from 1977 to 1981. Additionally, he was given numerous short-term assignments overseas to Anglophone countries in Africa and parts of Asia.

This variety of overseas experiences brought the Whittens in close personal and professional relationships with many foreign leaders and local citizens. Occasionally, Whitten’s work led to contacts with senior government officials and, in some instances, heads of state. However, the typical experience was with local government ministries, donor agencies of other governments, and private organizations, in the design and implementation of joint project undertakings involving USAID funding. Whitten welcomed cross-cultural exchanges throughout his career, and focused in particular on advocating and testing new educational technologies and approaches for their use in local communities.

Whitten is currently busy in retirement in the Atlanta, Georgia area. He remains active in the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) and returns to the Department of State for Foreign Affairs Day in early May of each year. From 1991 to 2002, he served as State Chaplain of the Georgia Good Sams, a national association of campers. Willie and Lucille Whitten continue to be active in the Johns Creek Baptist Church and other community organizations.