So everything went along pretty calm, until Thursday of the third week. It clouded up to rain; the thunder cracked and the lightning flashed. Afternoon recess came and we were going strictly on schedule: afternoon recess at two-thirty. I heard those wagons coming up the road and I saw these big girls: one of them was Mr. Taylor’s girl and the other one was named Annie. And they giggled at each other, and shook their skirts and yonder they went through the woods to those wagon drivers.
I built up a pretty good head of steam after I pitched one inning for the ball team; I went and rang the bell. No girls appeared. The other children: “Miz Graham, didn’t we have our fifteen minutes play period?”
I said, “No, we’re going to have eight minutes of it the next pretty day. We have to get our lessons over with now, because it looks like it’s going to rain and get the river up and wash away all of the footlogs. We have to hurry and get home before it rains. We have to have spelling.”
So I marched the little children in and I had Fourth Grade spelling and we corrected the papers. No girls appeared. Fifth Grade spelling; no girls appeared. Then it was time for Seventh Grade, and they were Seventh Grade spellers, because I didn’t have any Sixth Grade. Here they came in, just a struttin’ and a giggling, and a shaking their skirts and a laughing and twisting.
I said, “Where have you girls been?”
“Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh.”
I said, “Look a here, didn’t I tell you not to leave this schoolground without permission?”
“Huh, I go where I please, when I please, and Pappy don’t allow no schoolteachers to scold me.”
Boy, believe you me, they’d just as well have lit that chip on my shoulder right then. I grabbed one of those dogwood switches and I went for her and I cut her shirtwaist on the bias. I don’t know how I did it; but the switch did it. I was putting every bit of pep I had…now if those two girls had double-teamed on me they could have probably pitched me out of there. Maybe, I don’t know. But, I whipped that girl.
I just kept saying, “Sit down, sit down, sit down,” like a needle in a broken record of a phonograph, “sit down, sit down.” When I wore out one switch, the little children began running under the benches and trying to hide, because pieces of that switch were flying all over that room.
I reached for another dogwood switch, and boy, she sat down. I sat down, too. I waited until I could get my voice absolutely calm before I opened my mouth, because at St. Catherine’s we had been taught, besides carrying a book on your head without dropping it, because you walked properly, that if you controlled your voice, you controlled the situation. That you could not control the situation and you should not speak until your voice was absolutely its normal self.
So I sat there about four or five minutes and got calm again. I said, “Now look a here, I told you girls not to go through the woods to meet those wagon drivers, and I’m going to stay up here these five months, and you’re going to obey me, and everybody else is, that comes to this school, and when you don’t, I’m going to give you a whipping, and you’d just as well know it.”
I said, “Annie, come up here.”
“You ain’t a going to whip me like you done her!”
Annie came at me like a piledriver, sideways. She was going to knock me off my feet. I just very gracefully stepped aside and let her just about take the whole end out of that building, because she landed against it with every bit of power she had. All of the power that she had intended for me. She was a great, big, tall albino girl; one of the few albinos that I’ve taught: absolutely white hair, white skin, almost white eyes.
She flew at me like she was going to skin me. I just grabbed her and began to whip her and I repeated the same thing: “Sit down, sit down, sit down,” because all teachers had been taught to treat them alike, and I said the same thing. Well, I didn’t hit her but five licks until she sat down, and that gave me the right to quit.
I said, “All right. Now I want you girls to get ready to write your spelling, but remember that I’m boss here for five months.”
So I gave out spelling, and when I dismissed that school every child cleared out every article that he’d owned that was in that building. Everything went home.
Finally, one little third grader that had charge of the home-made baseball and the home-made ball bat (that was all that we could afford then in the line of athletic equipment) was standing there knocking the ground with that ball bat. “Miss Graham,” he said, “you know how to shoot. Now, I know you do. I done heard about it. Go over yonder to Mr. Kelly’s where you board and get your gun. Champ Taylor will be down here directly and he’ll want to cut you up with that old hawkbill knife of his, and the thing to do is to kill him.”
Story continues here (go to p. 48)
(b. 1896 in Old Fort, NC)
Interviewed July 24, 1975
Southern Highlands Research Center
Louis D. Silveri Oral History Collection,
D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections,
University of North Carolina at Asheville