An Early School Location Concern Was Water
A Community Center
Many, if not all, of you are familiar with a little wooden, “shotgun” type building on Highway 315 just past the Bynum Creek crossing. In fact it’s just north of the Vasey Creek crossing (that name is courtesy of Jack Barnett many years ago) and there is, usually, baled hay stacked there.
That building was, at one time, Williamson School and a voting place every four years. When I see that little building it is a reminder of how far we have come, as I compare it, in my mind, to Water Valley Schools or South Panola Schools of today.
Can you imagine the stories that little building could tell-about recess-or going after the bucket of water-there, probably from a spring up Vasey Creek. I’ve heard my dad say many times, “Going after a bucket of water was a coveted privilege, for there was no time limit attached.”
At Tindall, where he attended, the spring was way down at the foot of the hill and I’m told that it is still flowing. A primary location concern for the frontier school was a water source.
Most of those schools were built on land donated by some family and were usually named after that family. Williamson was no exception. In the years I served as County Superintendent of Education, Hubert Williamson, a descendent of the Williamsons who gave the land, drove a bus route from that area. If you want to get closer, try Jeannie Williamson Tyler, another descendent of that family. Some of the land in that area of Panola County is still held in the name of the original purchasers, at the Pontotoc Indian Land sales in the early 1800’s.
I mentioned stories about school days. One of my friends, who attended Williamson School, told me the following.
He was at the age when he thought it was just great to strike a match. By his desk there had been a knot in the pine board – the building was sealed with vertical planks. He managed to dislodge the knot and for the year had used the knot hole as a place to stow his waste paper.
One day, as the teacher wrote an assignment on the board, back to the room, he took out his “penny box of matches” (he got them at the store Saturday and was proudly carrying them in his pocket), took a match out and struck it.
“Who struck that match?” asked the teacher without turning. In a flash that match was gone-into the knot hole. No, that is not the end. Smoke began to billow out of that knot hole-right by his desk. They did save the school.
The Polling Place
In our early years of residence in Panola County, one of the Beat 4 polling places was located at Williamson School. This was in the late fifties. At the time, I was a member of the Batesville Civitan Club. As a service, to speed up the getting of the vote in, we took on the job of having a Civitan member at each polling place to bring the unofficial count to the courthouse as soon as the counting was finished. All this was arranged at an earlier, probably July, meeting.
If you remember, this was a time of stress and enforcement of voting rights. We did not register the names of our representatives with the Clerk. In the late days before the election it was rumored that there probably would be poll watchers scattered in the southern states.
Most of the older folks out there know that at one of these small polling places, when the voters stop flocking in after work – a lot of the laborious counting starts. This was the case that year at Williamson. I’ve never been one of the official poll workers but have counted votes in several counties – to give someone a rest.
A Stranger in Our Midst
At about 6:45 a car drove up at Williamson poll. Everybody thought, late voter, but the man who got out of the car was in full dress-coat and tie. He came in, introduced himself as Ben Smith and sat down without telling them his mission (he was the Civitan representative). He did not offer to vote and no one knew him. What they did know was that all the votes were tallied and ready to be carried to the courthouse. Conversation, that had been easy and jovial was now nonexistent.
They remembered all the rumors about poll watchers and no one knew my friend Ben, the stranger. At exactly 7 p.m., by the book, the baliff took the lantern (no electricity in the building), went to the door, leaned out and shouted, as he waved the lantern, “Here Ye, Here Ye, the polls of Williamson precinct, Beat 4, Panola County, State of Mississippi, United States of America, are now closed.” Ben Barrett Smith now told them who he was and they did give him the count.
Thanks to all of you. I did enjoy my several trips over to Water Valley during Carnival week. You can reach me most of the time at 23541 Hwy 6, Batesville, MS 38606, firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-563-9879.