The W.A. Whitten Collection, 1962-1991
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
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
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.