Autobiography of Mary Frances Hurt Wright

I was born July 4, 1956 in a sleepy little town west of Greenwood Mississippi. I was the ninth of fourteen children born to T.C Hurt and Annie Dora Richardson.

I have few fond memories of my childhood as that part of my life had to be quickly abandoned after my father's death when I was nine years old. Playing was a luxury my family could not afford. Frankly, no one in my community had time for frolic. It took every minute of the day to survive. Everyone I knew was sharecroppers. And the life of a sharecropper's day did not have enough hours for anything other than work. Every hour, it seemed was filled with something that had to be done. And most people couldn't wait to do them! Long before the sun appeared, everyone in the community had long taken their post in the cotton field, pasture, of whatever domestic responsibility their jobs entailed. As for me, my daily duties were cooking cleaning and childcare. Compared to most of the children in the community my age, I had a cushy job. I must admit, chopping and picking cotton was never something that appealed to me. However, I never looked down on those that did. I learned at an early age, simply by watching my father struggle out the door in great physical pain every morning, that all of us must do whatever we can to survive. And much of what we do in this life to survive, have very little to do with desire.

I accepted my life as it was in Avalon, Mississippi .... I was supposed to.... I had to, just as everyone else around me.. expect nothing! However, of all the things I struggled with most of my young life fitting mentally in the scenario of expecting nothing was a tremendous battle for me. And the mental battle raged even more after my father's death. I simply did not understand why thing were so bad and why they weren't ever going to be any better! And I couldn't stop thinking about that as my mother prepared for my father's funeral. It was so bitter sweet, the entire preparation for his homegoing. My father was going to be buried far greater than he ever lived. He was going to have people saying good things about him. He was going to be surrounded by beautiful flowers; many of them purchase by people who couldn't afford them. And he was going to have on a suit with matching socks and tie. My daddy was going to be looking fine and dignified, just like the white men I was use to seeing at the Avalon store on Saturday evening. The only thing wrong with my daddy being so dressed up and having all those nice things happen to him, he would never know it! And I would never get to see that sparkle in his eye, that I knew must have been there somewhere, just waiting to be lit by some small spark of joy. I always longed to see the kind of sparkle that I often saw in my grandfather's eyes, Daddy John as he lost himself in a world that I am sure was unlike the one we knew, when he plucked away on his guitar.

The turning point or shall I say, the life changing point occurred when I was nine years old. It was a bitter cold day that January morning, but I was feeling all sunny inside. I was finally going back to school. I was so excited about that, It didn't matter, I didn't have a coat to wear or even pencil or paper. I just wanted to be at school. As soon as the bus stopped in front of the school, I was off like a flash looking for my old classroom. Having been gone for so long since my father's death I had forgotten which room was mine. I finally decided to look in the room numbers, I recognized most. Luckily, I only had to disturb two classes before I found my old class. It was just like it had been months before, old Ms. Tompkins standing like a good soldier at the chalkboard with yardstick in hand. I was so happy to see her. However, it did not take me long to realize my emotions were quite the contrary of Ms. Tomkins's. When the anger in Ms. Tomkins's eyes stopped changing from various degrees of disgust, and she could finally move and speak to me, she grabbed the sleeve of my already tattered sweater, and thrust me in the uttermost corner of the classroom. She returned to the front of the class, and like the good teacher she was, picked up her yardstick, and directed the class attention to a living example of what an individual with little worth resembled. As the class looked in my direction, I too turned and looked in that direction. Only I looked in the face of a wall. I refused to accept my desire to learn as a stigma of worthlessness. I was not going to allow any wall, physical or mental, prevent me from academic success.

Today, four degrees later, having spent the better part of my life proving to the Ms Tomkins that they were wrong through my dedication as an educator. Daily I direct student's attention to examples of people who have defied the odds, who have refused to be defeated and to those who have escaped the walls of poverty, social, economic and racial bondage.

My hobbies mirror the things I found my greatest peace and joy: reading, genealogy and photography.

*Graduate of Amanda Elzy High School, Roosevelt University, National Louis, and Chicago State University.



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