School Days

The future of Tom and other sharecropping children was sadly often determined by the extent of a white landowner’s generosity. “A charitable, constant Christian farm owner might make it possible for a sharecropper’s children to attend school,” Tom explains. Tom was one of the boys who was lucky enough to receive an education, although he also performed farm work. He describes his early, rustic school experience:

“My first school was in a very small church. The teacher was a man, and he’d tell the older boys to cut him some switches in case some children misbehaved. The church was so small that if the teacher saw some children in the back ‘cutting up,’ he would raise that switch and he could reach the back pew and nail any culprit [that] he thought was doing wrong! He was so accurate that he wouldn’t miss! That was the way of teaching in the south. “We’d also learn by recitation. The teacher would say, ‘spell cat.’ Well, God help you—if you didn’t spell it correctly, the teacher would tell you, ‘come up here’ and you’d hold out your hand!”

Tom recalls that many a classmate endured the harsh tap of a ruler for forgetting proper recitations. Tom chuckles as he remembers the old schoolyard song, “School days, school days, dear old golden rule days! Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic. Taught to the tune of a hickory stick!” Tom recalls that he and his schoolhouse playmates would also chant arithmetic time tables in sing-song voices.. . .