Education on Dry Fork (continued)

Discipline was stern. Corporal punishment was liberally applied and notes were sent home where often a second punishment was given by the parents. The school and the community were intimately tied to each other. The curriculum was a basic one or readin’, ritin’, and rithmetic’ but it reached out to the community in many ways. Field trips were forays into and just out of the community. In the fall the students would hike up East River Mountain along the road to Hardy and Ingleside. Martha Cobb says,”

“We hiked all the way up to that cave, and when you got all the way up the mountain where the cave was you had to climb a lot of rocks, and we went up and went inside of it and looked around. It wasn't a real huge cave but you could walk back in it. When the chinquipins and chestnuts was ripe, we use to go up and get them and that was about it.”

Pete Ferguson remembers hikes over Buckhorn Mountain all the way to Rocky Gap where students would go to the Honaker Store and get their family’s mail and buy candy and what not. One time the group walked by the white school while the students were at recess. Some of the white boys started throwing rocks at the black children who then fled back towards Honaker’s Store. Along the road they loaded themselves with rocks and went back and retaliated. Rocks filled the air and windows were broken before the adults could bring things under control. After word of this reached Mr. Honaker he informed school officials that his black customer’s money was as good as his white customer’s money and such an event better never happen again. From that time on when black kids walked by the white school, the teachers made all the white students go inside.

Programs were a community event. There was a raised stage behind the teacher’s desk and on special holidays a play or recitation or singing would be put on. Most of the residents of Dry Fork would come and families from as far away as Bluefield would attend. Whites from Rocky Gap and down Dry Fork would also come. The school along with the church were the centers of community life. May Day was celebrated in the spring and Halloween in the fall. Hazel Tynes remembers that when school would let out they would....

“....we would go up here in one of these fields and spread out and have a picnic, and the par—have the parents come. And we’d have a May Day at the school house, and, uh, and we’d plait the ribbon—go one over top of the other and plait this ribbon—they May pole wrap. And we’d have games and they’d fix food and bring to the school, and this kind of stuff. I—one year, I remember, I was about—I might not even have been 6 or 8 years old, and they had us to run for May queen—the little girls. I didn’t win, but I was in second place, and my mother made me a dress out of crepe paper, and I had to crown my cousin. She had the most money—she either had 14 or 15 dollars and I only had 13 dollars.”

“At Halloween time we bobbed for apples and chewed all of these dry crackers to try to win—see who could eat the most crackers, and put these water in the tub and our head down there and bite these apples. If you’d bite them apples, you won a candy bar or sucker.”

At recess games were played and included baseball, jacks, hide and seek, Farmer in the Dell, Ring around the Rosie, and of course races and other competitive events were held. Estellia Saunders remembers playing “jack-in-the-bush.”

“You would have some chinquapins in your hand and the other person would chinquapins in their hand and one would say "Jack-in- the-bush" and the other would say "cut 'em down, how many's in?" They was five. If it wasn't five, you had to put the rest of 'em in there. Nobody plays it anymore."

Lunch was an hour and many students would go home while others would bring a pail with a biscuit or a boiled egg. Going to school and coming home was a process that took the children by the homes of their grandparents and uncles, aunts and cousins. Visits were made. Pete remembers stopping on his way home at his Grandparents, Mac H. and Fanny Ferguson, and being delayed by treats from Fanny’s kitchen and chores to be done for Mac. The home of A.J. Tynes was a stopping place for all the grandchildren as well. Unfortunately for the community, the Dry Fork school, like all one room schools in Bland County was eventually closed in the early 1950’s. Blacks were bused to the segregated schools in Tazewell County. Aubrey Gore laughingly says, “I went through three counties and two states. Yeah went from Bland County to Mercer County in West Virginia, back to Tazewell County to get to school. We went across East River mountain. We passed four schools to get to school. It was an all black school,Tazewell County High School.”

In 1966 segregation ended in Bland County and the black children of Dry Fork were sent to Rocky Gap Combined School. In the memories of the people of Dry Fork the event went very peacefully. Marvin Tynes remembers a story his father, Ferguson Tynes told about the event. Ferge was having a conversation with Conrad Tuggle, a white man of some property and influence in Rocky Gap, concerning the upcoming first day of school.

“Mr. Tuggle said, they are going to send them all to the Gap, I don't know what's going to happen. Daddy said, I bet you a six pack of pop that there won't be no incidence down there much. He said they won't have to get no law to put them down there. Mr. Tuggle said, I don't know, there might be some stuff go on there. After they enrolled them down there, daddy said to Mr. Tuggle, I told you, now you give me my six pack of pop you promised me, and he did. That's when Charlie Taylor owned the store down there.”

Pete’s brother, Mack T. Ferguson, was the bus driver for all of Dry Fork. He hauled the white kids as well as the black kids. Tim Havens, a white resident of Dry Fork, remembers his first day of school.

“I remember my first day of school, and boarding the bus on Dry Fork. I remember being petrified, I remember all of those nervous feelings. But, I remember the greeting of my bus driver, Mr. Mack Ferguson, who was also a resident of Dry Fork, who took me in his arms and told me everything was going to be all right. And I remember during those first two years, maybe first grade and second grade, my most vivid memories of school bus rides would be on especially cold mornings he would sit me right up, practically on his seat, on the heater. And he would do that with other small children. But he had such a genuine care for his students, and that has been with me since that time. “

Mack’s wife, Blanche, was an aide at the school. She had once been a teacher at the last one room school on Dry Fork and she was much beloved by the children. After her death the funeral was held in the gymnasium of the school and the attendance by whites and blacks overflowed the capacity of the structure. Aubrey Gore was an eighth grader when he integration began at Rocky Gap. He recalls some minor problems with adults but none with fellow students. He played sports, was in the Beta Club, and played in a combo with white boys. Whites and Blacks in the Rocky Gap area had been neighbors for over a hundred years and the transition to integration was a smooth process unlike many places in the South. Perhaps it was Andrew Ferguson’s barber shop, and working together in the fields and the mountains, or perhaps it was the mutual respect of mountain people trying to make a living in an unforgiving environment.

Education was always a recognized as an important commodity in the Dry Fork Community. Mac Daniel Ferguson left Dry Fork and pursued his education at the Christiansburg Institute and returned with the skills to succeed in life. Education, along with land and religion, were the tools of advancement for the African American in a hostile, segregated society that viewed blacks as second class citizens. The freed slaves who arrived on Dry Fork knew this, and passed it on to their descendents. These were no ordinary people. The Fergusons, and Tynes, and Charletons, and the other families knew that there were no guarantees in life. Education was just one more hedge in the vagaries of a black’s existence as a free man.

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