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Fort Pierce, Florida
la~rch 7, 1958
NWrr~~, M Mitchell Terguson, G coordinator
State :Depa~rtment" of Education
Tallahas see, Flor ida
Dear ~eM.~ Tergusons
.Your office and Dr. D. E. Williamls have been most kind and
cooperative tnat I dislike -to burden you further. However, I: an
~puzzled about things here. '-`c
The Assistant Principal, informing me that ghe spoke for
the Zducoln Park Academy administration, came to my house on F~eb.
8th and reminding me that skhe had asked me two .months before! if i
cared to teach, -urged me to be on hand the next morning to fill a
vacancy in the English department.
I told MCrs. Paigie then that I had no Florida certificate,that
I had taught i~n a college and none had been required of me, that I
had never taught in a public school sgstem. I was assured that they
would not only wait for me to get~ a certificate,' bit ajid me in g~et-
ting it. Then I said that I would try it.
Ten dayts `later, she cass~ to m-Troom sad 'asked ;,r f .I.,kad segnt:p for
my transcripts from Howsrd U., Washing;ton, D. C. and Barnard Col-
lege of Columbia, U. where I took mqy BA. and I told her that I had.
I Sad also written to the General Elxtension Division' 't U. of F.
to inquire about the teaching methods courses that I would need(.I
knew that I had sufficient English credits, but had nothiing of the
methods so popular now. They replied immediately offering suggest-ions.
I had also written to Dr. 2. E. WilliamsJ as to wh& steps I should
take, and you know his reaction.
Now, about ten sys ago, Mr. Leroy Fioyd, the principal here,
began to be very urgent that.I get myV transcript to submit an ap-
plication for certification, seeming to think that I had done
nothing along that line. I assured him that I had, and showed himl
the letter from Dr. Willians. I saoid that all I- could do was wait on
the transcript from Barnard for which I had applied. Further, ;my
mIail was directed to the school office here, a~nd he could easily
find out whether a letter had come for me or not. I had received
the transcript from Hoaward U, but I received mqy degr ee and I was
waiting on that to apply.
He met me in the corridor on the very afternoon that I received
your instructions, and so I showed your letter to prove that I was
trying, but still had heard no word from Barnard. I was very glad
when he called Ba~rnajrd long-distance, and he wa~s told that my
request was there and that threy had sent me a card saying that it would
be sent on receipt of dBtatzh $1.00 from me. The call was made on
March 3. -The enclosed card tells its own story, It reached me on
Principal bloyd impressed me that if I did not have the cer-
tificate by Monday, March 10, he could not allow me to teach. When
I lEft school today at 4 oclockc, the transcript from Barnard still
had not appeared in myr mailbox.
This eternal ha~rrassnentt appears to me to be a trifle unfair
because I never applied to teach there I was urged, and assurances
given. Turrther, I know my En~glish both by college courrses, and
practical application as an author, as you know, In addition, he has
seen the evidence that the transcript is being sent, I teach. esi
hours a. da-y, and I can do it* I get on well w~ith myg classes as argy
other teacher here,
I have an explanation in two clauses, which Dr. Williams
in his long years of contact with Negro education will readily
grasp, though you might -not be aware, My~ name as an author is too
big to be tolerated, lest it gather to itself the "g~loryn of the
school here. I have aet that before. But perhaps it is natural.
The mediocre have no importance except through appointment. They
feel invaded and defeated by the presence of creative folk among them.
As Gray, who first was president at Florida Normal, then by some freak
of fate at PA&AMNU, told me after he begged me to teach English at
St. Augustine. The third day of my stay there, TREE ST. AUGUSTIRE~
'RECORD found out I was there and sent reporter with camera. Gray
rushed out on the grounds where I was about to be photographed and
objected that he was the president, and if arny pictures were taken, they
should be of himself as the president. Later he told me angrily, You
have no business among us little folks. You are too big."
The second clause of this complex sentence is discipline at
Lincoln Park Acada~y. It is terrible. Too many over-age students.
Most students from what you might call under-privileged homes. There
a~re as in all Negro public school some old heads a who manage
by book and crook to dominate whoever is principal. I was told how
they managed to get quiet in the schoolroom. Impossible otherwise, I
was warned. It was admitted that 100 my bhomeroom class was the worst
on the campus. I admit that I have not resorted to their methods be-
cause it is a sad fact that Negroes are given to too much violence. I
cannot see where more violence will persuade than to decent behavior.
I sfaid in faculty meeting that instead of the goal being to merely get
silence by force, the responsibility of good conduct should be placed
on the individual student by reasoning, since they had known nothing
but violence all their lives with such poor results, to the end that
when they arrived at the physical size when corporal. punishment could
no longer be administered, NOTHING could be done with, them, as was the
case with numerous students there. To the dia~nnay of the n old heads"
100 is actually being tamed. They admit it themselves, but it does not
go down so well. I am attempting to wean the students from the habit
of toting knives. ~No teacher could detect and take away knives by
watching, as you anst see. A boy was stabbed last week. Myg aim is to
show them that there is no need to own one, and no need to settle their
differences with weapons, FROM THEIR PARENTS AEI ASSEOCIATES, IT 18
FELT TBACT ONE MUI~ST BE EAD 10 7wITH A DANGEROUS WEAPON PCR THEr LEAST
DIFFERENCE. They must be disabused of this concept, But ies cannot be
done by using moreCfirce in the schootroom. That merely fortylies
the student in his persuasion that force its the thing, Burth~er, :Ub
-has come out that even the "terrors" have no better discipline than
I, though they pretended differently,
Now, Principal Floyd knows that mqy transcript has been applied
for, and Barnard informed him that it was being sent, so I cannot
see why' the Argency. He implies that he might lose his job if it is
found out at Talla~hassee that I am teaching without a certificate,
I do not know whether he is really frightened, or being yanked around
by the old h~eads. But he knew that I did not have a certificate
when be! urged me to teach there,
This I want to say: I do not vish to be the center of one of
those! school fights which are so common in every Florida county that
shds,~ n. So peql'enqt rc~~~ they that I quip that the first
greeting wh~en- you enter a new town should be," How's your Iptwta at r~l8#
principal?" If Bloyd~ is sincere inthis freight, the arrival of Iy
transcript from Barnard should calm him. I told him today that it cane
not be more than a, day or two in coming now. Bear this in mind that
I can live without teaching. I did not ask for the job. It was urged
upon as~ None here can say, not truthfullyr, that I do not know my
subject. ( over)
I found discipline terrible when I came here, Some boys bring
their dice to claea.
As I said, I have made myp living without teaching; mostly since
I left college. Bfut since I started to teach. here, I am~reminded of
something I observed in b~y years of gathering folklore. 'That is the
element of attention, so closely joined with intelligence and lear~n-
ing. You already kinow that the world is divided between vistaexxxxxxr
visual and aa~ral-minded people. I find NJeg~roes prdominantly stral-
minded. I conceived the notion that based on that, some means could
. rp'g ggg brqpe ised Eri~ teaching Negro children faster, To hold attention or
as you know, intelligence measureytmentrs rests on th~e quantity :and
the quality of attention. This factor sets humanity apart from the
lower animals. I have? found so far that the holding of attention is
brief. Like the line from Rigoletto Like a plume in the summer windr#
I did vish to se, if I could work out something along ~that line that
would be useful in education below the college level.
So, I have told you truthfully about moy peculiar po ition here.
There is nothing else o~r me to say, Since I head never taught in a
secondary school, I naturally had no certificate, and getting m~y
transcript is im~plicit in the process He knows that your office
Mrost; sincerely your s,
SZora ~Neale Bur ston