Let the record show that the journey began in a little town in southwestern Alabama, a little coal mining town called Kellerman. I remember when I was four years old, the elementary school principal chasing me down the hill, telling me I was too young to go to school….
And then the family, when I was seven years old, my father became a coal miner again and the moved to a small coal mining town, Benham, Kentucky, in bloody Harlan County. Those of you who know about Appalacia have heard of Harlan County. That name was earned, believe me…..
Then the beginning of second grade, I was diagnosed as being gifted. But in my separate but equal elementary school there was no program for gifted, so I was skipped to the third grade and given a lot of busy work…..
And now we move to the eighth grade. And only one significant thing happened to me when I was in eighth grade. In Kentucky, all eighth graders took a math test and an English test. I was lucky enough to finish first in the state of Kentucky with a perfect score in math and the second highest score in the state in English. But it was merely luck…..
I’ll skim over the college experience briefly. I continued athletics although I entered Knoxville on an academic scholarship. In playing football, I was able to travel all over the South. We played teams in Georgia: Morehouse, Morris Brown, Clark. In Tennessee, we played Fisk University, Lane College, and Lemoyne College in Memphis. And in Alabama, we played Alabama A&M, Huntsville, Talladega, and Tuskgeegee. We also played Florida A&M.
When I got my first teaching certificate, during my first year — and I call this my missionary experience — I taught at a small private and public school in southwestern Alabama about 50 miles southwest of Selma. Out in the middle of nowhere.
My first Alabama teaching certificate I was certified to teach math, physical science, English, French and social studies. Teachers know what adminstrators do to first-year teachers. I taught Algebra I, Algebra II and Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry class with no textbooks or materials, and I never got any textbooks or materials. But when you’re young you think you can do everything. So I developed my own materials and curricula and guides. I also taught English, ninth grade, one class, tenth grade English, one class, and one general science class. A typical schedule for a first-year teacher.
My salary wasn’t very large, but when you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you don’t have any place to go, you can save practically everything you have. The salary also included room and board. And I ate all kinds of interesting foods; squirrel, rabbit, some other game I’m not so sure.
This was my missionary experience. Knoxville College, incidentally, is a Presbyterian school. So I was there four years, and then I taught in this school one year, so it took me five years to straighten the Presbyterians out.
My father, Archie W. Perry
Excerpted from a speech, The Journey, delivered in May, 1990, at Ohio Northern University. First appearance on the Internet.
Previously published in the ezine Vigil-Anti, a collection of political and literary essays, oral histories, short stories, novel excerpts, and exposes of the publishing industry and its marketing strategies.