Jenny's blog

Why My Kids Won’t Grow Up in Mississppi

I’ve been reading pages (and pages and pages) of histories that my parents are working. Momma is helping her mom write a history, and Daddy — a PROLIFIC writer — is finally compiling his thoughts and experiences. He’s barely out of college and is well over 157 pages.

Today I read a segment Daddy wrote about the murder of the music teacher when I was in first grade. It reminded me of why my kids will not grow up in Mississippi. I guess you could say it’s because of my first grade year.

When I was pregnant with DD, Jared lost his job. He was out of work nearly 11 months. It was a horrible time. My grandmother’s house stood empty in Mississippi, and my parents invited us to come live there for free. Living expenses are much lower in Mississippi than in Utah, the house had high-speed internet (a work requirement for us even then), and we could live there for free forever; but I was never even seriously tempted.

My grandmother’s house is about a block and a half from the elementary school where I attended. I knew that DS would be starting school soon, and I did not want him attending school where I had.

My first grade teacher was a tiny, wizened old woman named Mrs. Jayroe. I remember my parents being thrilled that I got her, because she was the teacher of the “smart” kids, and she was a respected, experienced teacher in the community. She was barely taller than us first graders, and I doubt she weighed much more than we did, either. She had curly white hair and glasses — the prototypical teacher.

A few weeks later after school started, a child was abducted from our classroom. The parents of a child in my class were going through a bitter divorce and custody battle. The father had custody at the time. One morning, the child’s mother burst into our classroom with a friend of hers and jerked the child out of his seat to take him with her. Tiny Mrs. Jayroe begged the woman to stop and grabbed the child by one arm; mom and friend had the other. I remember Mrs. Jayroe being dragged across the floor of the classroom trying to prevent this child from being taken from her class. It was another scary experience.

My elementary school had music classes on and off during the time I was there, probably due to funding as much as anything. When I started school in first grade, the teacher was a Mr. Moore and had been for several years. Everyone loved him, and I mean EVERYONE. He picked the best music. I still sing some of the old spirituals Mr. Moore (a black man) taught us to my children. A few months into the school year, Mr. Moore was murdered during a trip to Jackson, apparently to meet his son who lived there. His body was left in his car, and no motive could be determined. I remember crying and crying about it when I found out. My daddy was the County Attorney at the time, and I begged him to catch the bad guy (though the murder happened 90 miles away in Jackson, I was sure my All Powerful Daddy could catch him). Here’s what daddy wrote about it (and what I read today):

When Jennifer was in the first grade an elementary school teacher, Mr. Moore, was murdered. He was shot in a mysterious way and his body was found in his car. Mr. Moore was a black man. The black community in Philadelphia was very disturbed by this murder, and there were no leads to who committed the murder. The black community feared that the law enforcement agencies were not working on the case as hard as they should. There was a community meeting at Westside Park and I, along with some other law enforcement people, were invited to the meeting. I went to the meeting even though I was not an investigator and I thought I would be an observer. To my surprise when I got to the meeting, I was the first one asked to speak to the group. I had not planned anything and had not anticipated that I was going to have to say anything. So off the top of my head, I rose to speak to the crowd that was upset and suspicious. I was not sure what I should say, so I just spoke as I thought. I rose and spoke to the crowd and told them that I understood that some people there were suspicious that the white community was not particularly serious about trying to solve this murder because it involved a black man.

But I told them that was not true, and I told them that I believed that the law enforcement officials were working as hard as they could…..and that they could be trusted.

I then hesitated a second, and then said to the crowd, that I would tell them something else. I then told them that my daughter, Jennifer, a first grader, had returned home from school the day it became known that Mr. Moore had been murdered. I then told them that my daughter was crying about the death of a man she knew and liked. Then I said, that I had hugged my crying daughter and tried to comfort her and I promised my daughter that I would do all I could to punish the person that committed this murder. Then I turned to the crowd and said to them……as I gave my crying little girl my promise, I now give you my solemn promise too…..I will do everything I can to bring the murderer to justice.

The crowd had been boisterous, but when I stopped speaking, the crowd was absolutely silent…..and some had tears in their eyes.

This extemporaneous speech changed the tenor of the meeting, and then the sheriff and others spoke about the details of their investigation and the crowd was more reassured. By the end of the meeting, the crowd was promising to support and help law enforcement in any way they could. I don’t think Jennifer ever knew that her sincere tears in the first grade helped our community.

There was some work on the case, but with few clues to go on and no apparent motive, the murderer was never caught.

Also during the first grade, I had my first, very rude, introductions to sex. Children my age and older were often talking about sex. I now realize that this was likely because they were being sexually exploited by adults and other children, but at the time I had no sense of the implications of this kind of talk at such a young age. I had a vague idea that sex had something to do with making babies, but as for the mechanics, I drew a blank. The talk made need to understand more, so I finally asked my mom for all the gory details. I remember thinking it was the grossest thing I’d ever heard!

Also some time during this year I was the victim of an attempted rape at school. For some reason, our class was outside on the playground at the same time as the sixth graders. Several — 5 or 6 — big black boys were following me and some other girls around making lewd comments. At some point, they pushed me to the ground near the seesaws and told me they were going to rape me. I didn’t know what that meant, but I was scared. I remember almost having an out of body experience, and I felt as though I’d be safe. My friends ran and told the teachers some boys were going to rape me (I doubt they knew what it meant either, but certainly the teachers did.), and the teachers chased off the boys. They never told my parents. I never mentioned it either.

In fact, as I got older, I thought that I had dreamt the whole experience. It just seemed too horrible to be real. But then, during a “Remember when” session as a senior, a friend who was in the group remembered that day and brought it up. It wasn’t until then that I fully realized it had actually really happened.

These experiences were nearly 30 years ago, and I understand that the city schools have now gotten so bad that the parents who can are moving to the county to avoid them. These types of occurrences continued throughout my 12 years of schooling. Many, many times I tried to explain to my mother how horrible school was and how I hated it. Coming home was such a RELIEF after the filthy swill at school. I was constantly on my guard for danger. My innocent Mormon upbringing did not fit well with my more ‘worldly’ classmates, and I had very few friends. Worst of all, schoolwork was easy for me, making me not only a prude, but a Smart Prude. I couldn’t socialize because of the drugs and alcohol and sex. Couldn’t date. I was miserable and lonely.

While it is in my power, my children will never live like that. I do not suffer from the illusion that there is no sex, drugs, alcohol, sexual assault, bad language, or evil at schools here. But I do know that the schools here, because of the socioeconomic status of the majority of students (who are raised by upper-class educated parents), will never be what I experienced in Mississippi. Poverty and lack of education and abuse infests the school systems of Mississippi, destroying children from the inside like a slow cancer.

Not. My. Kids.

Posted by Jenny Smith

I'm Jenny Smith. I blog about life on the 300+ acres of rolling farmland in Northern Virginia where I live. I like tomatoes, all things Star Trek, watercolor, and reading. I spend most days in the garden fighting deer and groundhogs while trying to find my life's meaning. I'm trying to be like Jesus -- emphasis on the trying.