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African American baseball players from Morris Brown College

[Detail] African American baseball players from Morris Brown College

Mary Wright Hill [Principal of Grammar School]

Mrs. Hill recounts her long career as a teacher and principal at an African-American elementary school in Georgia.

July 27, 1939
Mary Wright Hill (Negro)
525 West Hancock Avenue
Athens, Georgia
Principal of Grammar School
By {?} B. Hornsby

"Do have a chair. They don't look so comfortable, but they are. I'm proud of them even if they are old and out of date. My daughter wants me to sell them, but I don't intend to as long as I live because they were sent to me from Africa as a wedding gift. Bishop Harrison of Atlanta was stationed there, and as he was a good friend of our family I sent him an invitation to my wedding. These are what I got from him for a wedding gift. You'll have to excuse me a minute. I picked a gallon of figs from my own bush this morning and had just put them on the stove to make preserves; they'll burn if I don't cut the electric current from under them."

Martha is of medium height and weight. Her curly black hair is streaked with gray and is cut very short in the back, which causes it to bush out around her face. She wears glasses and has piercing brown eyes. She was wearing a blue print dress buttoned down the back, black slippers and tan hose. Her dress was none too clean, and the hose were spotted and soiled. I thought the large smudge of soot on her arm was a birthmark until she took the hen of her dress and tried to wipe it off. The contents of the room were very old but well arranged, and the general appearance showed the use of a broom had long been neglected.

"No, I wasn't borned in Athens. I came here to teach. My mother and father were born in Greenville, North Carolina. [After?] they married they moved to Asheville, and there is where I was born on March 6, 1881. As you can see, I am more Indian and French than Negro. My grandmother was a Negro and my grandfather was an Indian. On my grandfather's side his mother was a Negro and his father a Frenchman. When Atlanta was on a building boom he moved his family there, where he could get plenty of work to do. He was a contractor for brick work. He made plenty of money, bought a home there, and educated the three oldest children. There were six of we children, all educated from Atlanta University, but one who graduates at Tuskegee under Booker T. Washington. He took up the same trade as my father.

"My father died when I was seven years of age. Before I finished high school my mother became an invalid, and before I finished Atlanta University she lost her eyesight. My desire was to become a medical doctor. Not having funds and no one to help me, I chose teaching to help my mother and educate the younger children. My older brother and sisters helped my mother and sent me to college, but I paid most of my own way working at school while I was there.

"After I had to quit school I was given a place teaching at Oxford, Georgia, at the age of thirteen. There were two grown people teaching under me. I was paid $30 a month. With that amount my living came out of it and the rest sent home to my mother. After teaching at Oxford two years I accepted work in Athens. I taught school out here in a section called Brooklyn. I taught at Brooklyn school two years making $35 a month. At the end of that time I was elected principal of East Athens School, there I am now serving and have been there thirty-three years this past January.

"I was the first female colored woman to be elected principal in Athens. There was a woman appointed to fill an unexpired term, but I was the first woman elected to serve. I filled the vacancy of the principal, who accepted a position in Panama for $100, and he only made $40 here.

"When I first took the place as principal it was just a four-room wooden building with no modern conveniences. The toilets were just topsoil privies, and we get our drinking water from wells. The enrollment was around one hundred and ninety children for the five grades, and three teachers. The school has grown to a ten-room building, has ['sanisap'?] toilets, running water, electric lights, and a telephone. The enrollment used to run as high as six hundred; now we have around four hundred and fifty pupils and eight teachers. One reason our attendance have decreased in that section, lots of the Negroes have moved North in order to find work, as there are not enough work here for everybody, and people are not able to pay a high price for colored help.

"I would like to tell you how I managed to get running water in that school. Not long after I took charge and began to drink that well water I began to feel bad and didn't feel like doing my work as it should be done. No matter how hard I talked to the city officials they wouldn't do anything about it. I took my drinking water from home and began to work on the State Board of Health about the conditions of the water in the section. They seat a representative down to investigate the matter. They asked me a million questions, of which they had a perfect right to do. I sent a boy to the well to get a fresh bucket of water and saw to it that the bottle I put the sample in was thoroughly clean. They took it and went on back to Atlanta. In about a mouth I got a report an that water. Headquarters said they didn't understand why there wasn't typhoid fever and other contagious diseases over there. Water was put in and not long after that the Health Department here employed a young lady to examine all those things as they were brought to the attention of the department, and specimens were brought in to be examined.

  • Full text Library of Congress/American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940