Elmer McCoy represented Prentiss County in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1936 until 1952 and was chairman of the Education Committee for nine years. He authored important legislation including the free textbook law, homestead exemption, and state supported public schools. And he played a crucial role in the creation of Northeast Mississippi Community College.
McCoy was born in 1902 in the New Site community of Prentiss County. In this episode, he explains how a love of public speaking and debate, led him to consider a run for the state legislature. When McCoy began teaching in 1923, Mississippi did not have state-funded public schools. He recalls running for the legislature in 1935 on a platform of state-funded schools and free textbooks. As a teacher serving in the State House of Representatives in 1940, McCoy wrote the bill to provide Mississippi children with free textbooks. He remembers the hard work of everyone involved. He also discusses some of the memorable characters he met during his time in office.
Elmer McCoy passed away on November 17, 1995.
PHOTO: Clarion Ledger
Gulfport native Aurabelle Caggins lost her parents at a young age and went to live with her uncle’s family. In this episode, she shares her memories of growing up in a household where everyone was required to earn their keep. For Caggins that meant getting up each morning at 5 AM, to wash clothes in a cast iron pot, before walking to school.
When Caggins began attending school in 1925, students were required to purchase their textbooks. Often having no money for books or supplies, she remembers having to do homework, late at night, using books borrowed from her classmates.
Caggins began working odd jobs in high school to earn money for things like material for Home Economics class. Her grades earned her a $50 scholarship and she arrived at Alcorn State with enough money for her tuition and entrance fees, plus fifty cents. She describes her fear at being called to the matron’s office and the opportunity that meeting provided.
Aurabelle Caggins taught Home Economics in Gulfport for 38 years. She discusses the important life-skills her students received, and laments that Home Economics classes are no longer offered at many schools.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Sean Buckelew and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
Yvonne Arnold of Hattiesburg dropped out of high school to get married in 1955. In this episode, she remembers her decision to get a General Equivalency Diploma or GED, some thirty years later. When Arnold took the GED test in 1985, she scored the highest of anyone in the Hattiesburg area. She explains how a story in the local newspaper led her to enroll at USM as a 48-year-old freshman.
Arnold continued to work fulltime while taking night classes at USM. After two years, it became increasingly difficult to get all the courses she needed at night. She recalls how her son convinced Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas to give his mother a special needs scholarship. After graduating in 1990, Arnold continued working as a USM Archivist until her retirement in 2008.
PODCAST EXTRA: Arnold grew up in Hattiesburg in the 1930s and 40s. She shares her earliest memories of Southern Miss and Dr. R.C. Cook.
BONUS: To learn more about Yvonne Arnold, check out this 2007 story from the Hattiesburg American https://www.newspapers.com/image/279342429
PHOTO: Hattiesburg American
In 1950, Dr. Sam Spinks began teaching school in Jones County, Mississippi. In a career spanning thirty-five years, he worked to expand the curriculum available to high school students. From his first job as a teacher at Soso and later as the Superintendent of Hattiesburg Public Schools, he developed innovative programs to help children from all backgrounds prepare for life after school.
In this episode, Spinks recalls how he used to take his eighth classes on educational trips at the end of each school year. He explains how HPS developed the State’s first “Alternative School” to help kids with behavioral problems avoid expulsion, hired the first staff psychologist and expanded the special education program.
As times change and maintaining discipline becomes more of a challenge, Spinks feels it is not the students who have changed, but rather, the environment in which they are being raised. He reflects on how that negatively impacts their behavior and recalls one Alternative School success story. He also identifies two trends: one he considers to be a positive for public schools and one negative.
PHOTO: By Woodlot - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21544903