James Herbert White was born to James Eddie and Edna Bracken White on April 13, 1903, in Gallatin, Tennessee. White, the grandson of slaves on his mother’s side, spent his youth working a variety of jobs including at a dry cleaner, an automobile shop, and as a butler. His father left at an early age and his maternal grandfather Dock Bracken often stood in as a surrogate father. He enrolled in Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial Normal School (later Tennessee State University) finishing his high school degree in 1924. Union High School in Gallatin hired him as assistant principal following his graduation. On November 22, 1926, he married Augusta Charter (1902-1993); they had two children Ruth White Malone (1926-2009), born Lillie Ruth White, and Rudolph Leslie White (1936-2006). In 1927, they moved to Lexington, Tennessee, where he became principal, and she taught at Montgomery High School. In 1928, White accepted an offer to become principal of Hardeman County Training School in Whiteville, Tennessee, which was later renamed Allen-White School after a former principal Jessie C. Allen and White. In 1932 White earned his B.A. and B.S. from Tennessee State University and additionally earned an M.A. from Teachers College Columbia University in 1934. White received two honorary degrees; a Doctor of Laws conferred by Allen University in1967, and an honorary Doctor of Letters from Rust College (1968). In 1948 he was offered the job of president of Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. After two years at Lane, Mississippi hired him as the first president of a college that was to be built in the Mississippi Delta. Initially named Mississippi Vocational College the institution became Mississippi Valley State College in 1964, offering full degrees, pre-professional, and technical education. In 1968 MVSC became accredited by the Southern Association of College and Schools. James H. White served M.V. S.C. until he retired in 1971. Three years later the school received university status; fourteen days before his death, the school changed its name to Mississippi Valley State University. White, along with his wife, is buried on the Mississippi Valley State campus next to the Chapel.
The James H. White papers consists of correspondence, memorabilia, newspaper clippings, printed materials, photographs, artifacts, and writings by White as well as some White/Malone family papers. The writings include White’s posthumously published autobiography Up from the Cotton Patch, and speeches. Due to White’s long tenure as college president and his residence on campus, a large portion of the materials relate to Mississippi Valley State University. The name of Mississippi Valley State University has changed three times; whenever possible the name circa the document or image is used. In cases where a range of dates exists, the current name, Mississippi Valley State University, is used.
- Writings by White 1950-1979
- Speeches by White and statements bound 1960-1969
- Printed Materials featuring White 1971, 1974, 1998, 2001
- Pamphlet & programs featuring White 1953-2008
- Personal papers: Newspapers and Periodicals 1930, 1951, 1954, 1971, 1974
- Administrative records as President with White 1951, 1953, 1960-1961
- Photographs of White 1910-1979
- Artifacts of White