(Editor’s Note, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Alfred McKie’s last name. We apologize for this error.)
By Ruby McKie Turner
I am writing in response to the article published in the June 4, 2020 edition titled, Members of Davidson High School Class of 1970 Recognized at 50 Year Reunion, to provide clarification of statements made and to add historical information.
I read with interest remarks made by Calvin Hawkins honoring the members of the Davidson High School Class of 1970 50th Class Reunion in the June 4, 2020 issue. The remarks in the third and fourth paragraph caught my attention and I felt compelled to respond. I was born in Water Valley, Mississippi and was a student of the retired historical Water Valley Colored School.
The historical Water Valley Colored School was located on Simmons and Cemetery streets in front of the Miles CME Church. The school only had eight grades, but over the years under the leadership of Principal E.C. Davidson grew to 12 grades, and held its first high school commencement in May of 1942 in the Miles CME Church.
The former Davidson and elementary schools were located on Calhoun Street. In the latter years of post World War II, Superintendent Herman White and the Yalobusha Board of Education decided to consolidate all the Colored schools in the county. The site chosen for these new schools was on land contiguous to the Spencer and McKie properties.
This land was on a higher elevation facing Calhoun Street. The elementary school was built on the lower level of Calhoun Street, while the high school was built on the higher level. The new names of the new schools were Davidson Elementary and Davidson High in honor of Principal E.C. Davidson.
I was elated and filled with joy at the words in the fourth paragraph quoted by Calvin Hawkins from Principal E.C. Davidson in his News and Views column in 1940 in the North Mississippi Herald, and I quote in part, ” Bro Alf McKie one of our Negro citizens of the county will never know just how he inspired me 21 years ago and left me with a full determination.”
The year Principal Davidson spoke was 1919. World War I had ended and the Pandemic of 1918-1919 was nearing its end. The man Principal Davidson spoke of was my father. They shared a common bond in their desire to help their fellow man.
My father was born July 12, 1866, a U.S. Federal citizen. He was a member of the first free-born generation, immediately following the Civil War of newly freed slaves. This generation was inextricably intertwined with the historic changes made by the country as it changed its course.
He was born the bi-racial son of Eliza Kelly, a newly freed slave on the Kelly x-plantation in rural Coffeeville, Mississippi. His birth name was Alfred Eugene Kelly, later the surname of his step-father, Joshua McKie was given to him.
The McKie family moved to Water Valley, Mississippi in 1879. They purchased their home on Haynes Street in 1883. Alfred became involved in leadership positions using his musical talents. He was a Cornetist and leader of a brass band, also a leader of a serenade group that provided music in the various communities of Water Valley. Later on as a mature man he became involved in fraternal organizations serving as the Grand Chancellor of the black Knights of Pythias, a Prince Hall Mason, and President of the Sons and Daughters of African Ancestry. His official duties often required travel beyond the State of Mississippi. Additionally, he served in leadership positions in the Everdale Missionary Baptist Church.
Principal Davidson and family were close neighbors and friends of the McKie family. There were walks he and my father shared together to meetings with Superintendent Bell where my father’s input as a parent and community leader was helpful in developing a better relationship between the school and community.
Principal Davidson’s vision bore fruit, and I quote in part, “If God willed, to develop a better colored citizenship, a better race relationship and a spirit of self- help in our dear old county in which I was born.”
The Water Valley Colored School did not have a gymnasium, and the boys and girls basketball teams could not compete with other colored schools in the county. Principal Davidson and the city officials reached an agreement for the school to have basketball games in the city’s auditorium building. This progressive move toward better race relations was the beginning of other events that included concerts performed by the school’s glee club that included all-male groups from rural churches. Rust College of Holly Springs, Mississippi Choral group also were invited guests.
The colored teenagers of Water Valley were not excluded from this building, and as spectators were invited to watch the white dances. Later on the colored teenagers were invited to dance. These activities were the beginning of change and deserve recognition.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Calvin Hawkins for the research that led to the words quoted from Principal Davidson’s News and Views column. These words were a voice from the grave that are now brought to the light and are a testament that will be shared with the heirs of Alfred E. McKie’s grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren.
By Ruby McKie Turner