My School Days in Claiborne County, Mississippi

By Eunice Geneva Furr Jones ( 1894 – 1987)

 

 

Note: My grandmother, Eunice Furr Jones, was one of the greatest influences on my life.  Born and reared in Claiborne County, Mississippi in the late 1800’s, she had many stories to tell of her adventures there.  I asked her, in 1973, to put down a few of them on paper for me and my children.  Here is her account of her school days.

 

After harvesting time and with most of the cotton picked, boys would go to school. Most of the girls would start the middle of October.  There would be only about six months of school back then. We seemed to learn just as much in six months as eight.

 

My two older brothers, Herman and Sid, were in school before I was old enough to go, but I was so interested I would run down the little hill on around a curve in the road to the “Big Rocky Hill” to meet them at four o’clock. My brother Herbert, next to me in age, was four. We’d roll our hoops between the two hills and wait. 

 

Soon we would hear voices.  Sometimes it was the colored children.  The colored schoolhouse was closer to us than the white school, and they came out first. They were ages eight to twenty-one. We knew lots of these children and their teacher.  They would sing and whistle along the way.  If their teacher saw or heard tell of them fighting or loitering along the way, she’d whip them next morning, and they’d get no recess for a week. Sometimes fights did occur between the blacks, and at times between the whites and the blacks. Usually we were friendly with most of them. Some worked for our parents, and these children would help my brother and me bring in the pine to start quick fires and fill wood boxes in the kitchen, and stack plenty on the back porch in case of bad, rainy weather. 

 

I could hardly wait for my brothers; sometimes if the teacher got behind, it would be 4:30 before they got out of school. I would begin by asking my brother Sid (just twenty months older than I) what he had learned and what kind of games they had played.  When he got tired and bored, he would run on ahead or try, but I kept up still talking! He’d say,”You’ll soon learn, and it is hard to spell all the words you have to.”  I begged Mother to let me go, but she said, “No, you’ll be tired. Besides walking two miles there and two miles back in the afternoon, is too much for you yet.”

 

I did get to start to Beech Grove School in Claiborne County, Mississippi in October, 1900.  Really, I was so happy. Mother combed my hair (long and dark red) in a braid on top of my head and joined it into the braid at the back of my head and braided it all together.  She left 2 ½  inches at the bottom and put ribbon on it.  Most of the time she put a flat bow on top of my head.  Sometimes she did part it in the middle and make two braids and let them hang down with a bow on each end.  Sometimes she would cross the braids on the crown of my head with double bows with blue, white or sometimes gold ribbon.  All the girls, large and small wore ribbons.  Yes, and all little girls had to wear sunbonnets.  She dressed me in bright percales or calico pinafores with white embroidery or ruffles.  When weather got cold and bad, we were dressed in flannelette, gingham or gabardine.

 

We went to a one teacher school in one large room which had several windows, two doors, a large wood burning stove in the center with a stovepipe clear to the ceiling and flue which extended on top of the roof, a large blackboard and teacher’s desk and chair up front, plus two bookcases.  At the back was another blackboard, hooks, nails and shelves in one corner to hold hats, caps, coats, and the children’s lunches.  Very few of the families were living close enough for their children to run home for lunch.

 

The first day I was so filled with curiosity.  The teacher, Miss Effie Young, came out and rang the bell.  We all got in line to march in – about thirty or forty, ages from 6 to 17 years.  She taught 1st through 5th grades.  When we were all seated, she came around and game me a piece of paper and pencil and told me to write my name. I did to her surprise. There were eight new ones in first reader, and she gave them all pencil and paper to do the same thing. One boy, Jack Fife, could write his name, and one girl, Beatrice McClure,  could also, but they had gone five months to school the year before. Well, when it came time for morning class and my first lesson, she gave us a piece of chalk, told us to go to the blackboard. Cup was my first word.  I had to draw a cup and write the word. Next word was apple. I drew it and turned around, and she asked me to spell apple for her and the class.  I did just that, besides I had to walk over to the other board and show three of the pupils how to draw and spell apple.  I had learned all of this at home and in Sid’s second reader and speller.  That first day I learned to read and spell. The next day we had little figures in addition.  I was small for my age and sure looked small standing beside those eight and nine year old boys and girls. My mother and dad let me go for five or six weeks and then they said, “You stay home now till spring comes.  Too far and cold for you to go this winter.” I was only five, and later laws were passed that you had to be six to enter school.  It broke my heart, but I had my reader and read all through my brother Sid’s books.  When he had to make short sentences, I’d do it for him.  We had writing and was graded on it the same as other subjects.

 

When I went back in the spring of 1901, I was as happy as a lark. The teacher would open school with a religious song or a spiritual and a short prayer.  Then we would settle down to work.  We had writing and was graded on it the same as other subjects.

 

We had a 20 minute recess in the morning, and another in mid-afternoon.  We had a full hour at noon. Noon hour was enjoyed by everyone.  We played everything – mumble peg, base, skip the rope, marbles, baseball, and would run races with one another.  I really could run, too.  Some of the boys would choose me to play ball on their side.  One boy, especially, would say, “I’ll take the redheaded, freckled face, pug-nosed Eunice Furr.”  They all knew I could throw, catch, and run like a deer! Was also pretty good at the bat.  I’d played with my brothers, uncles, and neighbor boys all my life, so they would let me play to have enough on both choosing sides. 

 

Sometimes I’d much rather play ball with the boys and climb trees, etc. than play house with girls and dress and redress our dolls. I had lovely little china dolls, but rather have them to look at instead of playing with them.  I loved doll furniture, dishes, and tea sets. I would pack and put those away so my smaller brothers and sisters would not break them.

 

There were nine of us children – four girls and five boys.  We always had chores to do. The spring was always a challenge – pick berries, bring in the fire wood and wood kindling for the cook stove, a large Charter Oak range.  Took lots of wood and water.  We would fill all extra tubs and buckets with water from the spring in the afternoon to last through the next day.  We would find birds’ nests though’ would not destroy the eggs or harm the young birds. We’d see lots of snakes and I’d always kill what we called the poisonous ones and let the chicken and rat snakes go.  Also the king snakes would not be killed as we were told that they kill other snakes that were harmful and poisonous.

 

We enjoyed doing things together instead of one doing this job or that – especially did we enjoy harvesting the popcorn and peanuts – also going to the syrup mill to watch the men grind the juice from sugar cane with a horse or mule-drawn pulley and then cooking it down to molasses.  Our mothers or grandmothers would put aside an extra keg of the latter aside “to go to sugar.”  This would help out in the making of preserves and jellies, and cut down on buying so much “white” sugar. There were lots of muscadine and grapes everwhere, besides the fall apples, quince, winter huckleberry and medlars. Yum!

 

When school closed that first year, we had learned four to ten verses of poetry to recite.  The larger children would have plays and perform the last night of the concert. My report card showed I passed into a higher grade. I was sad to say goodbye to Miss Effie.

 

The next fall we had a new teacher – Miss Ethel Torrey.  She was much more strict on all the pupils than Miss Effie Young was.  I had second reader, spelling, arithmetic and language.  The school year passed swiftly and soon it was the end of April and school was out.  It would start again around Oct. 10.

 

The next semester I had a new teacher, Miss Florence Nason.  She was well educated and a hard worker.  She would never speak to a child or ask him to do anything but twice.  Next time a real big switch was across his back or a book on the side of his head if a switch or a club wasn’t handy. Some of the fifteen or sixteen year old boys would aggravate her, and when she had enough of any kind of foolishness, she’d really pour it on. them – large or small. One day she whipped a Coughlin child three times for not sitting in his seat correctly.  The third time, he’d dropped his pencil and was crawling between two seats getting it.  All at once she tiptoed back there and was beating him all over with two long switch canes put together.  I felt so sorry for him that I cried all the rest of the afternoon.  He was about eight or nine years old.  His father kept him home four or five days.  His mother was dead and he had three brothers and one sister. Once a    seventeen year old boy, Thomas McClure, was looking out the window, his book closed, and she walked passed him, turned around, and slapped him with all her might!  Thomas stood up, drew back and let her have it across her face, and such a fight you’d never believe!  After they had swapped eight or ten licks, Miss Florence had backed into the corner and behind a bookcase she had four of five big cane switches.  She put three of them together and really went to work on him.  He finally got hold and broke them to bits and  struck her over the head and shoulders.  About that time, she called to all the rest of us children, “Get your hats and coats.  You are dismissed. Be sure you go home.” We did that, but one of my uncles hid behind a big beech tree and slipped back to the back of the schoolhouse and climbed up to peek through a window.  He said fists were flying and their clothes were torn, and when the stove pipes all came falling down, they did not stop.  Finally, Miss Florence said, “All right, Thomas.  We will quit here.  You may come back to school if you do not mention this to anyone.” Well, he came back though both of them had had plenty of boxing for the rest of that year!

 

At the Beech Grove School in Claiborne County, we’d get water from a nice cold spring nearby, and Beech Grove Baptist Church was in a stone’s throw of the schoolhouse. We’d always volunteer to get cool fresh water often.

 

In January of 1905 with midterm exams over, my dad moved us to Sharkey County in the Delta.  I missed my schoolmates – Lucy Fife, Mary Harlan, Beatrice McClure, Correy Carraway, and Clara Coughlin.  We moved to Ritchey – no school till spring.  ( Here, I am omitting her description of school in Sharkey County and will pick up when they moved back to Claiborne County.)

 

In December of 1910, my dad moved us back to the Furr place near Beech Grove in Claiborne County.  I was in the 8th grade.  We started in January after mid-term. Miss Julia Luster was my teacher.  They had added two more rooms to the old ones that I had left five and a half years before.  We still walked that two miles to school, but in the fall of 1911, the county bought a school transfer, drawn by two horses.  Three transfers would carry 40 to 45 children to school, but the ones as close as a mile had to walk.  My brothers Dewey and Herbert attended Beech Grove, too, and also my sisters Bonnie, Ethel and Ivy. 

 

The kids there were a bit farther advanced then the ones coming from “Delta schools,” but I soon caught on and made good grades and only missed one word in two years in spelling.  I always had an average of 85 to 98 in all my courses.  Aunt Ollie(Jones) had finished 8th grade the year before, so she went to high school, but Uncle Vernon (Jones) was in class with me. 

 

We had good times in the afternoon walking home, and Luther Allred was most always riding his pony.  We would go down to Buckins Creek where we would get flat rock and see who could skeet and jump over the water the most times.  In the spring we would pick wild honeysuckle, violets, yellow jasmine, and dogwood and make lovely bouquets and put them on Miss Julia’s desk or table.  Lots of my younger classmates or friends that I had left behind in 1905 when I had moved away were gone – some had moved away and some had married and left.  Mack Jones, Hugh Clark, Vernon Jones, Earl Shannon and Benton Jordan were the boys in my eighth grade class.  The girls were Lucy Fife, Bertha and Nettie Jordan, Beatrice McClure and Frances Phillips.  Lucy Fife sat in the desk with me till I asked to be moved. Miss Julia knew Lucy didn’t study, but talked, whispered and wrote letters to boys. 

 

Lottie Hudson sat with me .  She was in the sixth grade. Mack Jones and Hugh Clark sat right behind us and kept up a flow of conversation or picking on Lottie and me.  She’d fuss and sometimes tell the teacher.  They would mostly play with my hair, or “fix it” they’d say! But mostly they would mark the back of my neck with indelible pencil. This went on for three weeks.  I’d almost scrubbed the skin off my neck and just couldn’t erase it all.  So one afternoon, it was almost time for school to let out.  We were preparing our geography lesson, and those eighth grade geography books were large and heavy.  Hugh was busy marking away, and my neck felt like it was about to bled. Everything was so still and quiet. I raised about half up and let go on the side of his head with that big book. It almost knocked him out. Miss Julia looked so surprised and said, “What was that?”  No one said a word.  Sidney Jordan and Hugh Rogers, fourth graders, just laughed and laughed.  Finally Miss Julia said, “You boys stop giggling and tell me what happened.” Sidney Jordan said, “We couldn’t help laughing.  Eunice wopped her geography book over Hugh’s head.”  Everybody laughed then. She asked me, and I said, “Yes, I surely did.”  She told me she would have to give me a lower grade on conduct, but she didn’t.  Whenever the next one was due, my grades and all were the same.  She knew all along that I had had enough of their foolishness.

 

We would still play all sorts of games, jump the rope, etc. Most always the boys would get a nice grape vine to jump. Mack Jones and Hugh Clark would tease and pick on the girls and most of the time got by with it.  One day Beatrice and I were jumping and skipping together, and she got tangled up in the vine.  They seesawed and cut her with the vine and then started on me.   I was trying to help her. Well, my hose were torn, and I had a gash or two.  I turned around and grabbed what had been the top of a fence post, which although partly decayed had a solid heart piece, and I rapped Mack across his bottom once and put another one on his hip bone. He sat down, nursing his hip for a while. Beatrice was so glad, but she’d not take her part or help me out in a crisis.

 

We were still all good friends. Clara Coughlin ran past me one day and grabbed at my bonnet to run and hide it. My bonnet was tied underneath my chin, so I grabbed her hand and jerked her down on the ground beside me and gave her a few pretty good smacks.  Some of the boys happened to witness this and came running to see the fight.  Well, as I had had my bout with her, I started to let her go.  She kicked me, so of course, I grabbed her, and this time I threw her on the ground. Of course, the boys knew me and started telling me to put it on her. They knew I could do it and would.  About that time, I didn’t need any prompting.  I did get along nicely with my classmates until they’d push me too far!

 

Lots of times big rains would put the creeks out of banks and over the foot logs.  My dad would ride horseback and lead two horses for us to get home.  I remember twice I was behind him, and Nellie would swim a way down the creek and come out.  What a thrill! My two older brothers would think nothing of it, but to swim on a horse was something special for me.

 

Gertrude Sylvester was my last teacher, and she taught all grades from 1st to 8th.  Mr. Manor had five little children from six to twelve years old. Ellen was seven years old.  Miss Gertrude had Mildred Manor to count to 100 every day.  This was Mildred’s first year in school.  She’d count real well, but when she’d get to 99, she’d say, “Ninety-nine, forty.”  Miss Gertrude would whip her and make her count again, and she would do the very same thing again.

 

That was the year of the high water.  The lakes and bayous and all were full.  Water was four to six feet high on the level.  Instead of closing down the school, as many did, the trustees got together and said, “We will keep on, Mr. Furr, if you will Eunice row the boat and take the children morning and evening.”  I did. I would take seven in the first boat load and then go get eight more which were smaller.  So we kept right on and didn’t miss out on time.  Miss Gertrude boarded with friends next door.  She’d ride horseback to the edge of the lake – higher ground there. Then one of Mr. Farrar’s hired hands would row her to the schoolhouse.  This lasted four weeks.  School was out as usual the last of April or early May sometime.

 

 

My older brother Herman was married, and Sid was working away from home, so I was the oldest one at home.  That was my last year in school – 1913. That year I had three 9th  grade subjects and 8th grade science.  This was the end of my education. I got married in December of 1914 to my sweetheart Edward Hooker Jones whom I had first seen, looking down at me from a tree, that he had climbed in the Beech Grove schoolyard.

 

Around 1909, the school board superintendents began trying to get consolidation in Claiborne County. Pine Ridge, Brandywine, and Sarepta consolidated with Beech Grove. They had three rooms and three teachers until 1936 when all schools, including Hermanville and Pattison schools came to Port Gibson. Besides being consolidated, it was integrated in the sixties.

 

submitted by Sue Burns Moore  sbmoore@swbell.net

 

 

William Preston Furr Family - 1913

click on photo to enlarge!

 

L to R, front row: Helen Ethel Marie Furr, Ivy Adella Furr, Ellen Adella Jones Furr, William Preston Furr holding Hugh Gordon  Furr, Bonnie Bell Furr

 

L to R, back row: Dewey Hopson Furr, Eunice Geneva Furr, William Herbert Furr, Sidney Guy Furr - (oldest son, Herman Payton Furr, not in picture)

 

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