yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


Currie Porter Boyd

Information about Decaturville as given by Professor Currie Porter Boyd, recorded on tape January 19, 1992 and transcribed by Margaret Mallard Beach

This is January 19, 1992, and my name is Currie Porter Boyd. I am an ex-teacher from Decatur County Training School in Decaturville, Tennessee and we're attempting to reconstruct some of the history of that school.

I first started my teaching career in Haywood County in 1945, as a principal of Stanton Elementary School. I enjoyed the year there and did several little things that were pleasing, but the next year I had a chance to get into the field of which I had prepared and that was agriculture. I moved to Douglas High School, out from Stanton, Tennessee, where I was the Vo Ed teacher and biology teacher for 10th grade. I remember my very first visit to Decaturville, having no idea that I would ever work there. I, along with a friend of mine, Mr. Wayne Reed, was coming from Nashville, Tennessee, and got on the wrong road, and wound up in Decaturville where they were working on Highway 69, Highway 100, really a dirt road; we turned around on the road that goes toward Darden and, incidentally, that became the road on which I roomed for the first 7-1/2 years with the George McElrath family.

My first invitation to come to Decaturville was after I ended my teaching career at Douglas Junior High. Without announcing it I had decided to farm for a year. Out of all my agricultural teaching I never actually had a chance to "practice what I preached." So, I intended to take the home farm and use some of the new innovations and scientific ideas that I had learned at Tennessee State and use them at home. But in the interim between the end of the school year at Douglas and the beginning of the school year at Decatur County Training, Professor F. L. Buck came looking for me. He found me at a neighbor's house under my Model A Ford Roaster car doing some repairs, and he informed me that he wanted a Vo Ag teacher. I was not very interested at that point, so I proceeded to sort of give him a bit of my lip, there in a way. I told him that I liked agriculture and didn't mind teaching but I didn't want someone to feel as if they were my father. I already had a father and I was past 21, and I knew right from wrong. I knew how to conduct myself in all situations and I didn't need to be constantly reminded of something I was not doing wrong in the first place. He sort of laughed and said, "I don't want somebody to father. I just want me a good Ag man that I can turn loose in the Ag department and let him do what he knows to do." And so, we agreed, but I told him I had one stipulation and that was that I wouldn't work unless I could get $200 a month. At that time the State Department saw fit to pay African-American Vo Ag teachers the minimum salary which was $176 per month, however, this was near the war time and the Federal Government paid $200 for teachers to teach soldiers about agriculture. So, I felt like the Vo Ag teachers were more important than an assistant who was teaching veterans who returned from the war. So, he said he would try and he succeeded. He told me that the board had agreed to give me $200 a month. So, I made my move to Decaturville. I spent some of my best years of my life during my approximately 8 years teaching in Decaturville.

The plant was two buildings, both frame buildings, the regular building and the Vo Ag building, and my agricultural program was centered around actually four activities. One was teaching the facts about Vocational Agriculture and I taught them in seasonal sequence - the different farm activities, and two days a week we worked in the shop where I taught the boys to use certain tools, acetylene torch and many hand tools.

We did a lot of work on personal property. If a boy had a car that needed brakes fixed, we would let him bring it to the school and we would make a lesson out of it - repairing brakes. I took one car, a 42 Model Studebaker and it used as a sort of guinea pig to teach my 6th, 7th, and 8th grades the facts about an automobile. That started when I asked one day in class a girl what was a generator and she didn't have the slightest idea, and I asked about other parts of the car. Most of them knew that you put water in a radiator but they were lost when you talked about pistons, what a carburetor did. They didn't know. So, I proceeded to teach actual on the spot facts about how an automobile operated. First, we named the parts. We told them the radiator and showed them the radiator and how the water went in it, how it was cooled, water pump, and then we went to the motor and I took it down - took the head off and showed them the valves, what the valve did in the process of the motor running and showed them how the carburetor blew the gasoline into a fog and I demonstrated that with taking a small amount of gasoline, putting it in a tube, and I shook it up, open mouth, so it wouldn't bust, stuck a match to it and it exploded, and they said, "Wow!" I asked first, "What do you expect? Will all this burn?" They said, "Sure!" And after that it went out and there was gasoline sealed in, and I'd shake it again and repeated it. They began to understand then that gasoline didn't just burn the way they thought it did. It had to be blown into a fog and that was what the carburetor did. And we went all the through that motor showing the timing, the brakes, how the hydralic brakes worked. We took the transmission and saw how the gears, and shift to low gear what happened to the transmission, and to second and high gear, and so forth. They were very good learners. Two of my boys went to Akron, Ohio, and spent careers working in automobile chemistry there.

The Shop and, of course, the Classwork.

The adult farmers class, as we called the evening class, was made up of farmers who were actually in the process of farming. There were not many of our people farming on a large scale in Decaturville. Decatur County was not the best county for agriculture. The soil was thin and gravelly and hilly, but there were a few who were involved. We had a quite lively evening class, even though it was rather small compared to the one I had in Haywood County which was 35 farmers.

The other most active part of the Vo Ag program at Decatur County Training School was the NFA, and that meant New Farmers of America. It was the parallel organization to the FFA which is the Future Farmers of America, which was the name given to the organization of white boys in farming and, of course, we were in a segregated situation, and the NFA was the name given to black boys in the farm program. We had a very active NFA. We got uniforms; we had jackets, caps, neckties, and everybody was excited. We had initiation ceremonies which I suppose all those members will remember today and laugh about it if they were where they could discuss it. From this NFA several of our boys developed into rather outstanding men. One of my NFA presidents, Willard Pettigrew, seemed to have earned a doctorate degree, Roland McElrath became a principal in a school at Big Sandy, and others. One became a minister, Harles Mays. There may be some others, but we had quite a successful program for farm boys. The NFA was an organization that taught a lot of character traits to boys. We had Parliamentary Procedures that were practiced. In fact, that was the only class the boys ever had, even then or now, in most cases, that really taught them how to use Roberts Rules of Order in organizational activities.

Now, we had livestock judging, crop judging, poultry judging, tool identification, crop identification, quartet singing, public speaking, and many of those kinds of activities where our boys were quite well represented in district meetings and also in the state meetings.

Our school was small and, I suppose, our top numbers were around 250 students and we had about 6 teachers. While I was there only two men were on the faculty, the principal F. L. Buck and myself, and he sort of unofficially made me the assistant principal. Whenever he'd leave the campus he'd leave the campus in my charge and it was one of the honors that I never forgot, that he trusted me. He was kind and he would discuss school activities with me which I had not experienced with my former principal. By doing so, he made me very very active in trying to help the school system. There was nothing that he could call upon that I was not willing to do. Coaching the boys basketball team with no extra pay, I would take my car and take 7 boys. Sometimes we would get in after 1:00 o'clock in the morning after a game away from the school, and overloading the car sometimes would blow out a tire which I had to replace myself and still had to be back for that 8:00 O'clock class like all the rest of the teachers. So, naturally, I sort of developed a little bad taste in my mouth for basketball, plus the fact that our team was not a winning team.

We didn't have much reserve on the bench and some of the boys would not train very well, and I'd find out occasionally they'd slip some beer in the group and I didn't like that at all, but in a way I tolerated it. We did what we could with what we had. I was very much devoted to the school, its program, and the people in the community. I went beyond the classroom attempting to be helpful and sort of a role model for the boys and girls. Sunday morning I'd often round up my NFA boys and take them to Sunday School. All these kinds of activities were fruitful and caused a better relationship between the boys and myself and the community.

One of my other major activities in Decaturville was the organization of a little band - kind of a dance band, a musical band, and this was made up of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade boys, and we had a girl a time or two that would serve as a vocalist. And I called the band "Barrel House Boyd and His Little Keg Heads," and the "Keg Heads" were really good. What we did was to practice practically every day and where we would work out to perfection, each band member's part on a particular song. We were not reading music; we were doing what they call "head arranging."

We listened to the record. We'd play the record and see what each part was suppose to do and hold that person to that. Some of the band members, as I recall, several of them have passed on. Little Donnie Stigall was our drummer. I think Donnie's dead. Orman Menzies played bass and Gilbert Funderburk played bass, T.S. Pettigrew played guitar and W. P. Pettigrew, guitar. The best guitarist we had was somewhere between Jesse Chappel and Roy Craig. Roy Craig had experience playing in the hillbilly band with his father and some others over in Perry County. Roy Craig was an exceptionally good guitar player. Roy fell overboard while being in the Navy and died. We had Weedie Walker, one of our best vocalist, sang like Aretha Franklin. We had a young lady from Camden that played piano and sang some, and I understand that she died. I can't remember her name. I heard it the other day. But, anyway, we had several different people. Billy Scott was one of our vocalists who sang real well; had been an NFA president. I think Bill is still around. And the band did several appearances at some of the elementary schools - Clifton, Saltillo, places around as a fundraiser for the NFA organization, and we had a few minstrel shows in there with characters that had different names at different times. One pair was called "Skinner and Packer." Another was called "Pete and Repete." At other times we called them "Po and Depo." They were real funny. We had some jokes. We told jokes that were compatible with the audience but it was a lot of fun. Our best comedians were Julius Strickland from Camden, Tennessee and Thomas Moore. Thomas Moore was a very good comedian. We had a lot of fun and Bobby Funderburk has passed on, also. We had several boys who would take part in different parts of the show and we just had a lot of fun. One other things, we had great discipline. My requirement was that they would have to be controlled and act nice or else they couldn't be a part of it. It was a character building sort of thing and many of our farm owners and school parents were supportive. T. R. Mays, the bus driver, was cooperative with our program. There were many others. I just happened to think of him.

My whole stay in Decaturville brought a lot of new experiences to me. One was the political experience. I voted for the first time in Decaturville as a Democrat and I also found some political pressure for the first time in Decaturville when the chairman of the school board that owned a chevrolet company put a decreed out that teachers would buy chevrolets and suddenly my taste for fords skyrocketed, and I refused to buy a chevrolet. I had gotten a leave of absence for a year's study at Iowa University for a master's degree and on returning they would not give me a second year and suggested that I buy a chevrolet. So, I decided to leave and let them keep the job and I did. I left without warning them. They were holding the job open and I went on back and finished my master's, but this was kind of a lesson, a kind I'd never experienced before - political pressure because in Haywood County we didn't even vote and we had no problem with politics at all because we did not participate. This was the beginning of my interest in developing political power in Haywood County which we did later. Civil Rights Movement that was sparked by my organization in founding the Haywood County Civic and Welfare League.

Another thing in Decatur County that was an interest to me was that black and white people got along so well. I was amazed because such was not the case in Haywood County. So, all and all, I still say that I spent some of the best years of my life in Decaturville, and I had a slogan in 1948. "Straight in '48." And I recall that was the year I got married, so I was sort of "late in '48." That one, of course, didn't stand but my daughter is doing real well today. We had one child but we didn't stay together. So, for the most part I am "safe, sane, and single."

Decatur County Training School owes a lot of its success to my predecessor, Professor Crowder who formed the school there and is often mentioned by students and teachers alike. My part in the progress of Decatur County Training School was one that I went in wholeheartedly, with great interest for the people and developed a great love for Decaturvillians, and one of the facts that, I suppose, sort of prompted me to do so was the fact that Hue Earl Tole, called "Joe Boy" at 7 or 8 years old told his momma that he wanted to be like me. That just shocked me down to my knees. I had to make sure or let him see a good example of manhood in me and that has never left me.

To all Decatur Countians, I feel quite indebted and I love them all.

I think one of the positive impacts of the Vo Ed program in Decaturville was, I feel that the parents had a more positive attitude toward the school because of our program in Vo Ag. I had the opportunity to go out and visit a lot of homes, and I found that many of them, for instance, were hostile toward the principal because the principal didn't have a chance to come out and sit and talk with them like I did. And when I went to somebody's home, I'd always pick the worse chair and sat in it. They'd want to give me the best one and I'd refuse to sit in it. I'd sat in the chair with the wire in it or whatever, and I think this helped to inform the parents of what we were trying to do and that even though the principal might not have come over to eat dinner with everybody, he was trying to improve the school and they had no way of knowing that because they didn't have a chance to talk with him. But I found, also, that I had 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls that were real problems - "thorns in the flesh," and they had almost driven me away from the school. I couldn't hit them with my fist like I felt like doing at times, and I didn't use bad language to blast them with a tongue lashing, so, I was almost in a dilemma. And then I decided that maybe I should go to the parents. I found that this was the easiest step I'd made. I had gone in every case. I went to the parents and told them what was happening and the parents cooperated. What happens without contact with the parents is the parents usually take side with the student: "My son will not lie," etc. They will believe the student over the teacher, and I'm saying not that no teacher ever did wrong because I'm sure they did, but in most cases it is the student who has caused the problem and then when she/he becomes disciplined, they go home and tell the parents that the teacher mistreated them and ought to have believed them. That was quite a lesson to me, too, in Decatur county by solving the worse problem I'd ever had. Two girls got to fighting in class and like to tore each other's clothing off. I didn't know what to do hardly, so, I beat them home - told their mother and she pulled a limb off that peach tree and did what I wanted to do, gave them a good whipping and I had no more trouble with them. So, the experience and friendship and progress made in Decatur County were very much helpful to me, as much so, as I think it was to the students.

Typed l/3l/93

Dr. Currie Porter Boyd [1992]

Dr. C. P. Boyd (Southwest - Rural)
Stanton, Tennessee

Retired college professor. Graduate of Tennessee State University - B.S. Vocational Agriculture and Science; Graduate of Iowa State University - Plant Pathology and Vocational Education; Minor, Botany and Economic Entomology. Holds Ed. D. from University of Tennessee-Knoxville in Educational Administration and Supervision and Curriculum and Instruction. Formerly served on Haywood County Commission. Currently serving on the Southwest Tennessee Area Agency on Aging Advisory Council. He was founder and executive secretary of the Haywood County Civil and Welfare League, Inc. and is a member of the Rural West Tennessee Minority Affairs Council. He was recently appointed Director of CORE for the State of Tennessee.

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