Miss Bessie

Topics: High school, Public school, Ku Klux Klan, Teacher / Pages: 6 (1757 words) / Published: Mar 29th, 2012
Carl T. Rowan (1925-2000) was born in Tennessee and received degrees from Oberlin College and the University of Minnesota. He worked for years as a columnist for the Minneapolis Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times, expressing his views of a variety of issues, especially race relations. Rowan also served as the director of the United States Information Agency and was the ambassador to Finland.

Unforgettable Miss Bessie
Carl T. Rowan

She was only about five feet tall and probably never weighed more than 100 pounds, but Miss Bessie was a towering presence in the classroom. She was the only woman tough enough to make me read Beowulf and think for a few foolish days that I liked it From 1938 to 1942, when I attended Bernard High School in McMinnville, Tenn., she taught me English, history, civics—and a lot more than I realized. I shall never forget the day she scolded me into reading Beowulf. “But Miss Bessie,” I complained, “I ain’t much interested in it.” Her large brown eyes became daggerish slits. “Boy,” she said, “how dare you say ain’t to me! I’ve taught you better than that. “Miss Bessie,” I pleaded, “I’m trying to make first-string end on the football team, and if I go around saying ‘it isn’t’ and ‘they aren’t,’ the guys are gonna laugh me off the squad.” “Boy,” she responded, “you’ll play football because you have guts. But do you know what really takes guts? Refusing to lower your standards to those of the crowd. It takes guts to say you’ve got to live and be somebody fifty after all the football games are over.” I started saying “it isn’t” and “they aren’t,” and I still made first-string end—and class valedictorian—without losing my buddies’ respect. During her remarkable 44-year career, Mrs. Bessie Taylor Gwynn taught hundreds of economically deprived black youngsters—including my mother, my brother, my sisters, and me. I remember her now with gratitude and affection—especially in this era when Americans are so wrought-up

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