Saturday, February 25, 2017

Before the Blue Front

Before the Blue Front: 
Community Action Association (CAA) Sponsors Basic Education
By Photo-journalist Ken Smith - in the Yazoo (MS) Herald, March 1973

Jimmy Holmes checks the paper of his 88-year-old
student, Mrs. Ollie Little, who didn’t “miss a class" 
in an effort to upgrade her third-grade education.
The Community Action Association building in Bentonia was once a small store. It isn’t very big and facilities are sparse, but on Wednesday evenings there is a hum of activity and mood of earnest determination.

From the street it’s likely one could not correctly ascertain the number of people crammed between the walls, because there is a definite lack of automobiles in the few parking spaces in front. The people, nearly 30 most nights, do not own cars or much of anything else. They are the poor and illiterate folk who lived in Bentonia, who never got a chance for much education in Yazoo County before the 1970s.

With the help of a 24-year-old native son, the students, ranging in age from 22 to 88, are doing something about their plight.

Jimmy Holmes, a senior at Jackson State College, is leading them and from all accounts, they are most willing to follow.  An athletic looking young man--and well he should be for his major is physical education--Holmes sports a slight mustache and an Afro.  “Hopefully,” writes photo-journalist Ken Smith, “he is the ‘new breed’ of black leadership.”  He is a teacher and his 30 pupils have an average of only seven years of schooling.

Holmes dedicates his free time to helping the people of his community find a path from the darkness of ignorance. He called it teaching the “three R’s,” but technically the course was “basic education.”  Assisting him in this project were the center operators, Willie Mae Johnson and Vidine Hilderbrand.  

The students included Mattie Roberts, Ollie Little, Geneva Owens, Iola Gregory, Vernilla Wilson, Jerry Dean, Ira Hudson, Mattie Wilson, Cloritha Wilson, Georgia Hudson, Cliff Berry, Luretha Mason, Alberta Mason, Eva Margiu, Johnnie Walker, Fate Hammond, Christine Demus, Alfreda Shaffer, Lizzie Lee Hammond, Elvia Henderson, Matter Courthous, Vertistine Hubbard, Isaiah Johnson, Leslie Hudson, Flora B. Griffin, C.M. Harrelson, Josie Lee Anderson, Alma Williams and Ella Luckett.

One of these students, Mrs. Ollie Little, is 88 years old, “but she never misses a class” said Mrs. Johnson. The students have a thirst for knowledge, for the education they missed, Walking a few blocks—or a few miles—to get to the one room school house isn't too much, and they are grateful for the opportunity.

The Yazoo Herald, Mar 15, 1973.