The writer taught in White County and other public schools of Arkansas from 1923 to 1944. Despite his experience, he was not prepared for the discipline problem he encountered at Griffithville in 1932. This excerpt from his memoirs is courtesy of his son Hank Fulbright Jr., a WCHS member who lives in Searcy.
Homer Fulbright’s wife Wilma (right rear) was a teacher in both elementary and high school for 11 of the 17 years that he taught. This is her class at Griffithville for the school year 1934-35. Shown are (from left): Front row - Ben Collinsworth, Beatrice Rice, unknown, Helen Rice, Dwight Capps, Buddy Franks, unknown, Laron James, Orville Sutton and Orville Dean Gross; second row – William R. Corder, Nathan “Sonny Boy” Smith, Van Chapman, Doris Bailey, Fayrene Pence, Bonnie Jean Gross, Luella Neaville, Carol Hassell, Grover “Hook” Franks, Arlie Rice and Clifford Koster; back row – unknown, Howard Thomas, unknown, Latrice Williams, Margaret Rice, Frances Gains, Mildred Thomas and Leah Catherine Pence.
The morning that school opened, the entire school board was present and sitting on stage, and it seemed that every family that had a child in school was there. I suppose they came to see what the new superintendent looked like and what he would say. I was angry at myself for accepting the job without first checking the situation and also angry because the school board had not told me the situation before I signed the contract.
We opened school with a meditation by the Methodist minister and a prayer. There was a portable chalkboard that had been placed there by the president of the board. After the prayer he president introduced me to the people and then said, “Now, professor, come to the chalk board and write your rules and the school board will approve them.
About the middle of the first week of school, I was keeping a study hall and trying to do some paperwork at the desk up front, all at the same time. One of the large 11th grade boys who was 18 years old, son of one of the merchants in town, star on the basketball team, and, as I learned later, was the leader that caused the trouble the past term, was sitting on the front seat to my left. I heard someone humming a tune. When I would look up the humming would stop; whenever I looked down at the work I was doing, it would start again. I walked over in front of this young fellow and said, “Is that you humming the tune?” He looked up, smiled and said, “Yes, don’t you like it?” I said, “No, I don’t think I do,” and began slapping him with both hands so fast and hard that he could not get out of the seat. When I about wore out my hands, I stopped, pulled him out of his seat and said, “Get your books and get out of here and do not come back until you have decided you want to act like a gentleman.” He gathered up his books and I led him to the door. He got about two blocks, then he turned around and came back and said he was ready to act like a gentleman. I said, “All right, be seated.” I was superintendent there for four years and that was the last student that I ever had to punish.
This is Wilma Fulbright’s class from the mid 1930s at Griffithville (from left): Front row – Luella Neaville, Bonnie Jean Gross, Carol Hassell, Fayrene Franks and Doris Bailey; back row – Van Chapman, Arlie Rice, Nathan “Sonny Boy” Smith, William R. Corder, Grover “Hook” Franks, Clifford Koster and Mrs. Fulbright.
We had a tragedy to happen in February 1933. Our county superintendent was killed in an automobile accident, and the State Legislature (which was in session at the time) did away with the county superintendents and replaced them with a county examiner who was paid only $50 per month, but he was required to hold his office open only on Saturday. This was not a very attractive job to any good school man, therefore a rural teacher finally took the job who was teaching full time in a rural school. He had never taught in high school, and I suppose, like most rural teachers in the county, did not have a college degree. His job mostly was to conduct the County Teachers’ Examination twice each year, and to see that the rural schools had teachers for reach term. He did not claim to know anything about consolidating schools, neither did he want rural schools to consolidate, so the consolidation planned for Griffithville was placed on the back burner for another 10 years until the county superintendents system was restored by the State Legislature and the economy improved.
We had a good program started for a four-year high school and already had many students coming from rural schools in high school and several would be seniors the next term.
Mr. Morgan Owens was supervisor of high schools in the State Department of Education. I went to discuss the possibility of our establishing a high school at Griffithville and to find out what would be necessary to do to get the school accredited. He visited our school, took an inventory of the most pressing things needed before the school would qualify. He also checked on how to alternate subjects taught in the high school grades.
We started by improving the building and grounds. We got a W.P.A. program to put a new roof on the building, paint inside and out and to level and landscape the grounds. We got the P.T.A. organized that helped with other things. We were short on money to employ additional teachers, and also short on classrooms for extra teachers. We needed a music teacher, so one of the school board members who lived across the street agreed to give up a room in his home as a classroom for the music teacher. Many of the parents had her to teach private lessons to their children which helped to pay her salary. We were very lucky in securing the service of a young girl from Searcy as music teacher. She was an excellent teacher, was loved and respected by every one. She began with our second year. We ended the first year with new uniforms for four organized teams, each of which entered the county tournament for the first time. The junior girls won the sportsmanship trophy and of course, this pleased the mothers. Spirits were high and we were well on our way for the second year, and getting the senior high school accredited.
The school term for my second year at Griffithville opened with one additional senior. My sister from Independence County came to live with my family for the school term.
We already had many of the improvements that were required checked off. Our music teacher was on the job, and the building and grounds were in satisfactory condition. We needed funds to drill a deep well on the school grounds to provide sanitary water supply plus funds for improving library and science departments. The school district did not have the necessary funds to do those things.
These are the Griffithville Sluggers of 1930, who finished their season with a 34-4 record. Shown are (from left): Standing – manager Bill Jones, Charlie Story, Booty Pence, James A. Neaville, Finis Cecil, Robert Corder, Ralf Neaville; seated – Howard Grissom, Dobe Story, Redus Nuckolls, Wayne Sherrod, Charles O’Donell and John B. Neaville.
This is the Griffithville High School girls basketball team for 1937. The players are (from left), Vera Kathryn Pence, Doris Bailey, Louella Neaville, Parlie Mae McCollum, Margarette Ray, Dorothy Vandiver, Emogene Showalter, Clara Waire, Maxine Showalter and Totsy James. Coach Ashmore is standing at rear.
A young doctor who had just finished his internship in Chicago and his wife who was a registered nurse came to our little town to practice medicine. While the doctor and his wife were in school in Chicago, they worked part-time with a company that staged plays in Chicago. The doctor, as an assistant in training the cast, and his wife as an assistant makeup artist. Since there was not much entertainment in the small towns during the Depression, the doctor told us of the experience he and his wife had had in this field. He said they would be happy to help train and assist the characters in a play free of charge, and share receipts with the school in the community where the play was shown. This money would not only help us with the graduation expense but would give us additional money to purchase other items for the school.
The title of the play selected was “The Girl In the Fur Coat.” My sister played the leading part. We took the play to some eight or ten communities. Every place we played, the people said it was the most outstanding high school play that had ever been shown in their community.
The play not only provided money to defray graduation expenses but also the funds we needed to finish out the things needed for state approval of the school.
Dr. and Mrs. Shannon continued to work with the senior play for the next two years and we continued the same circuit, each time getting more and more compliments from the audience and larger and larger attendance.
We got the school accredited without the help of the county examiner or any outside person. We had an outstanding graduation speaker from a college in Jonesboro. By this time the people in Griffithville were ready to continue with the high school until the economy in the area was stable enough to vote the tax necessary to consolidate. This did not come until six years later.
The school was approved for accreditation in the spring of 1934. The school spirit was high with students and all the people in the community. The fourth year we had four girls that had finished the 11th grade in Searcy High School and in other high schools in the area that transferred to Griffithville to finish with the class of 1936.
We still did not have a speech and voice teacher but we made arrangements to send our voice and speech students to private teachers in Searcy. In the spring of 1936 we had students to enter the county contest in every event in high school voice and speech as well as music. We had a boy that won third place in violin. He was the only boy to enter the violin contest in the county. Violin contestants in those days were all girls. This was the first time in the history of the violin contest that a boy had placed.
We had a string band known as the “Dixie Harmonizers” that had a regular radio program over a Little Rock station at 4 o’clock every Friday afternoon. This band of high school students performed in various activities over a wide area.
In 1936 it seemed that every school in White County was getting a gymnasium built by the WPA. Our consolidation project was still on the back burner and we had no idea when the economy would stabilize to the point where we could get the rural schools to consolidate. Our plans had already been drawn for a new building with gymnasium, Home Economics and Vocational Agriculture to be built on a five-acre location, but our athletic program was growing to the extent that people had begun saying, “All the schools in the county who do not have a gymnasium are getting the government to build one free. Why can’t we get one, too?”
We did not have sufficient land to build the necessary buildings for our newly planned program for consolidation, therefore I thought it unwise to build a gymnasium on the present location when, hopefully, the school would be moved to a new location.
Some of the school board members who had children in school began putting pressure on me to get a project and let the WPA build us a gymnasium. One board member who had a daughter on the senior basketball team said he would go with me to Little Rock, Batesville and to Dallas (projects for WPA jobs went through three offices after the project was approved by the County WPA office).
Since Mr. Jacobs, the County WPA director, and I had gone to high school together and played basketball together in high school, I felt sure he would approve the project. Mr. Jacobs told me to go to the Little Rock Department of Education, draw up our plans and get a blueprint of the type of gymnasium that we wanted and he would approve it.
The board member and I went to Little Rock and got the required information and blueprint, gave it to Mr. Jacobs. He signed it and said, “Now, in order to rush this project through quickly, I would suggest that you take it to the district office at Batesville in person. By doing so, you will gain a lot of time. Then bring it to me and I will forward it to the Dallas office for final approval.”
He said we should be able to start building in a week or 10 days. The approved project came back from Dallas approved, and Mr. Jacobs told me we would be ready to start the building just as soon as the County WPA committee gave us a work order which should be within day or so. I waited two weeks, contacted Mr. Jacobs several times in regard to the delay. Each time he would say that the committee had not released the work order.
By this time, I knew something was wrong, but I did not know what the problem was so I went into Mr. Jacob’s office and said, “Now, Louis, you and I have been friends for a long time. I know for some reason someone is holding up this work order. If you know, I want you to tell me confidentially. If you do not know, then I will call Senator Bill Fulbright and see if he can locate the reason for the delay.”
-Photo courtesy of Windle Porter, WCHS
This undated photograph was identified as “Old Griff School North Side of Town.” The teacher was Pearl Walden (1., at left). This print was numbered to help in identification and a numbered list was circulated among former students who provided the following identities: 1 – Pearl Walden, teacher, 2 – Kathleen Story, 3 – unknown, 4 – unknown, 5 – unknown, 6 – unknown, 7 – Chapman, 8 – Pete Nuckolls, 9 – unknown, 10 – unknown, 11 – Bobby Boggans, 12 – unknown, 13 – unknown, 14 – unknown, 15 – Paul Hudgins, 16 – Marvin Bailey, 17 – unknown, 18 – unknown, 19 – Mary Lillian Smith, 20 – Vera McDonald, 21 – unknown, 22 – unknown, 23 – unknown, 24 – Juanita O’Donnell, 25 – unknown, 26 – unknown, 27 – Mary Ruth Purvis, 28 – unknown, 29 – unknown, 30 – unknown, 31 – Gladys Harris, 32 – unknown, 33 – unknown, 34 – unknown, 35 – unknown, 36 – unknown, 37 – unknown, 38 – unknown, 39 – Welton Hudgins, 40 – unknown, 41 – Nadine McDonald, 42 – Lorena Boggan, 43 – Bernadine Sherrod, 44 – unknow, 45 – unknown, 46 – unknown, 47 – unknown, 48 – unknown, 49 – unknown, 50 – J.W., 51 – Bruce Sherrod, 52 – unknown, 53 – unknown, 54 – Wayne Sherrod, 55 – Bruce Sherrod, 56 – Irene Layrock, 57 – Lorene Layrock (twins), 58 – Evelyn O’Donnell, 59 – Miller Lewis, 60 – Marie Sherrod, 61 – unknown, 62 – Harold Bailey, 63 – Wilta Stephens, 64 – Lola Boggan, 65 – unknown, 66 – Kathryn Grissom, 67 – Bill Riding, 68 – unknown, 69 – Dollie Grissom, 70 – unknown, 71 – unknown, 72 – unknown, 73 – unknown, 74 – unknown, 75 – Erma Lee Neaville, 76 – Bessie Nuckols, 77 – unknown, 78 – Eula Holt, 79 – Reba Holt, 80 – Ruby Hart, 81 – Kenneth Bailey, 82 – Bertie Turpin, 83 –Henry Vase, 84 – Jessie Ruth Walden, 85 – Eunice Walden Story, teacher.
Of course he did not want me to call the senator, so he said, “Now, Homer, if you will promise me you will not quote me, then I will tell you why the delay. We are allowed just one project at a time in each township. Mr. James A. Neaville, the Democratic Committeeman in this county, does not want the gymnasium. He wants a gravel road due south of Griffithville to the Prairie County line. He thinks this road will bring more trade to Griffithville. He has the project approved for the road so you are not going to get the gym after all the efforts we have made in your behalf.” I thanked him and said, “I will never quote you but I had a call last night from a school offering the wife and me a much better job effective at once, so I am going to resign today as superintendent at Griffithville and accept the other job.” And that was the end of the four years at Griffithville.
After long careers and a happy life together, Homer and Wilma Fulbright both died in an automobile accident at Searcy in 1992.