MRS Jessie Johnson Crawford Shares Some Personal History About Education in Alabama
As told to Maria Gitin March 26, 2010
Born and raised in Wilcox County Alabama one of my favorite people on earth is Mrs. Jessie Crawford, mother of Joy Washington, Debbie Porter, and Jessietta Thomas, wife of Bob Crawford Jr and daughter in law of Bob and Georgia Crawford Senior.
JC: You know, Mr. William James Edwards, he changed my whole life. Because of that Snow Hill school he built, I turned in a completely different direction than I might otherwise have. I went to that school from sixth-twelfth grade. Yes, it was a public school by then, but that I got to go there made a difference. Here’s how it was.
When I was little, we lived way up in Ackerville, about 15 miles NE of Selma. There were no school busses for black children so I couldn’t go to a regular elementary school which was too more than 20 miles away.We had a little school that was held at the Sanctified Church, they call it Holiness now, but back then it was Sanctified. It was about six miles I guess. My daddy would ride me over on his mule as far as the Big Branch swamp, then I’d cross and he’d watch me get across alright. In the afternoon, he’d come back and wait for me to crossagain and then carry me home. Every day.
Traffic was too bad on Highway 21 East because it was under construction. I would have had to go 8 miles around to go to the Snow Hill elementary so that’s why I went to Sanctified Elementary up until the 6thgrade. We lived about 20 miles from Snow Hill and like I said, there were no busses for black children, they would just drive right past us walking along.
We lived on some white people’s place, the Wallaces. They were very nice to us. We just gave them some of our corn and chickens and vegetables. They didn’t pressure us. It was alright.
But, if not for Snow Hill, my education could have ended right therein sixth grade. Likely I would have stayed in Ackerville, got married,had children young.
My father’s brother, my Uncle bought some acreage on a hill. It had good drainage. He already had some land so he offered it to my father and we moved, and built a little house. It was just six miles to Snow Hill so I was able to complete my education there. We moved just in time for me to go to high school.
They had purchased their own school bus, “The Blue Goose” we called it, and they used a student driver but (at least) we had our own bus. Mr Wilson was the principal the year I entered, that would have been —– I graduated in 1953 age 18 and went on to college, became a teacher. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to go to that high school, that never would have happened.
MG: How old were you in the summer of 1965? We met little Debbie and Bob Jr but not you or Joy.
JS: I would have been 31 that year. I had been working, teaching in Barbour County earlier. Back then, in 1961 they fired me because I became pregnant. But something good happened in Barbour, too.
They came and asked black (teachers or everyone?) to register to vote, the local white people, not civil rights workers. That knocked me off my feet! Because in Wilcox where I was born and Monroe where I moved with Bob, we couldn’t vote until long long after that.
Where was I that summer? I had been working for the Demopolis School system but they fired me because I got pregnant with Joy. She was born August 21, 196—(year committed or Joy’s privacy) so I was home with her when he went over to Wilcox to see his parents. I went back to teaching and got fired again in 1970 when I had Jessietta.
For more about the Crawford family: “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” www.thisbrightlightofours.com
For more about JW Edwards and Snow Hill “Fallen Prince by Donald P Stone”: https://www.amazon.com/Fallen-Prince-Education-Afro-American-Nationality/dp/0962153