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With the money I had saved and this opportunity to work for my board, I now left home and began my schooling in earnest. I entered this school in the low sixth grade. However, having a strong body and willing mind, I carried eight studies while the others carried only four. In the two remaining months of that session and the two following years I completed the high school course. I graduated with honors, was valedictorian, and received the faculty medal for the highest grades made in school my senior year. The week following the close of 101 school I passed an examination for a county teacher’s certificate.

But to do all this I had to work. For my board in that home, I had all the wood to cut, water to draw, fires to make, garden and yard to keep, horses and cow to care for, fences, etc., to repair and many other odds and ends to do. In order to prepare my school work I did not retire till ten and arose again at three or four, getting only from five to six hours’ sleep out of the twenty-four.

There is one little incident connected with my stay in this school that might be worth mentioning, as it shows how I met one of the greatest difficulties which a young man just entering school at my age has to meet. As I have said, I entered this school at the age of twenty-three in the low sixth grade. Those in my classes were children about twelve and thirteen years old. You can imagine how I felt, a big awkward young man twenty-three years old in classes composed mostly of little children from ten to twelve years younger. But my embarrassment was intensified when one day a little twelve-year-old girl made fun of the way I was trying to work an example in common fractions. I felt hurt; I closed my book and quietly walked to my seat. A cousin of mine was teaching the class. She caught the look on my face and saw that it was not that of rebellion, but that I was only hurt, embarrassed, and was trying to conquer. I shall never forget the kind look she gave me, as she said, “Will, you are excused, 102 if you wish to go.” Her remark was not only a rebuke to that member of the class, but it helped me to conquer. I took my books and went to my room resolved to show this little girl that, “He laughs best who laughs last.” And I did. When I started she was almost a grade in advance of me. But I finished one year ahead of her with honors while she hardly got through a year later.

I had been working heretofore during the summer vacation months that I might be able to return to school each winter. But as I was to teach the coming winter, I spent the summer studying at the North Texas State Normal, Denton, Texas. To do this, I now for the first time borrowed money, fifty dollars, from a friend of mine, a banker, who had once struggled for his education. He had been watching me and gladly came to my help and voluntarily offered all the money I needed. With this fifty dollars I was able to take the summer normal course. At the close of it I passed an examination for a state teacher’s certificate which entitled me to teach in any of the public schools in the State.

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On returning home I was given the home school where four years before I had learned to figure and write, paying for my tuition with wood. The salary was forty dollars per month and the length of session was now six months. This seemed like a big salary to one who had never before received more than twelve dollars and fifty cents per month. But it was not the salary, it was the opportunity that I 103 now saw further to pursue my studies and to instill something of the same spirit and enthusiasm in others, that now meant so much to me.

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I had once hoped for no more than the mere knowledge of how to read and write and figure, which this little district school had in former days given me. But with that knowledge had come a broader vision and the ability and opportunity to pursue that vision—that of getting a high school education. And now I had reached that goal, had gone to the state normal and held from the State a recognition of the right and ability to pursue this still greater vision of giving knowledge and inspiration to others, how could I ever wish or hope for more?

But it chanced that that very summer my rainbow again moved out just ahead of me. I attended a district Baptist association. Dr. S. P. Brooks, president of Baylor University, was there and made a speech on education. Here I heard how he had once been a section hand on a railroad. And now he was the president of a university, and with a great heart was telling me and others how we needed that college and how it really needed us as instruments through which to bless the world. Oh! That was almost another world’s message to me. My vision again broadened. The rainbow of my boyhood days again appeared.

I did not get to talk to this man. I was half-way afraid of him or revered him. But I did not need 104 to talk to him. I had heard him and he had inspired me. I returned to my home with new hopes and soon formed new plans. I would work hard till the opening of my school to pay off the fifty dollars I had borrowed. Then I would save all that I made teaching that session that I might go to college the next. Yes, I wanted to be faithful to my former vision and purpose to teach that school. But at the same time I would make it a stepping stone to something higher.

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But I was prevented from doing this. Just about two weeks before my school was to open, a preacher from a near town came to me and asked me if I wanted to go to Baylor University. I readily told him I did. “Would you go?” he asked. I replied, “I would if I could.” But that seemed impossible. I had no money. My father could not help me. And, besides, I was under obligation to teach that school. He offered to help overcome all these difficulties if I would only go. I afterward saw that his main purpose was to see if I wanted to go, and would if I could.

He himself had worked his way through Mississippi College and the Seminary. Without my knowledge, he and his church had watched my struggle for an education. Ofttimes in former days I had sold him and other members of that church, not knowing who they were at the time, many cords of wood and watermelons to help pay my way in school. I had now stopped and was going to teach. 105 They were afraid this would mean the end of my own school days. Thus he came in behalf of his church to ask me to go on at once to college. If I would do so they would furnish me ten dollars per month. I saw the trustees of the school I had contracted to teach. They were unselfish and sympathetic toward me. Glad that I had this opportunity, they released me on condition that I help secure a teacher in my place. This was easily and satisfactorily done. I renewed the note at the bank, and with the money I had made since my return from the Normal and the first ten dollars from that church I made preparation, and bought my ticket for Waco, Texas, to enter Baylor University. After I had bought my ticket I had but fifteen dollars. I felt that if I could only get there I could work for my board, and with the promised ten dollars a month I could pay all my other expenses.

When I reached college there was but one person in all that city, student body and faculty, that I had ever before seen—Dr. Brooks. And he had never before met me. I could not get there till the night before matriculation began. Then I could find no opening or home where I could work for my board. They had all been taken. Dr. Brooks saw my anxiety and disappointment. He encouraged me to hope and hang on. And I did.

I made arrangements with a students’ club for a month’s board, matriculated as subfreshman and got down to work. I saw that Dr. Brooks was very 106 busy. Therefore I never went to him with my troubles. But he would sometimes overtake me on the campus or call for me to come to his office and would encourage me. Once while on a trip somebody sent by him fifteen dollars to help me hold on. I do not now know where it came from. I was able also to get five dollars per month from a students’ aid fund. I have often felt that without this it would have been impossible for me to stay. For at the end of the first month there was still no place open for me to work. And so it was from time to time for the first year. When I would hear of and go to see a place someone was just ahead of me. Then once or twice the church would fail to send me the ten dollars. How I ever stayed out that first year I can hardly realize. It seems like a nightmare at times as I look back on it.

I had no money to renew my worn-out clothes. And in those days I became an artist with a needle. I could put as nice a patch on the elbow of my coat sleeve and elsewhere as any woman. And when the feet of my socks would no longer hold darning, I would cut them off and sew two legs together, sew up one end, and wear them that way. And at the wash tub, there was not in all the South a black mammy that could beat me. I bought me a set of smoothing irons and with the exception of my collars and occasionally a shirt I ironed all my clothes. I also pressed my coat and trousers. And by pressing now and then for others I would bring a twenty-five 107 cent piece to my depleted purse. But there were homesickness and heart aches. There was no going home Christmas and other vacations. And more than once my hope was almost gone. And ofttimes when my room-mate had gone to sleep I would slip away into the darkness to the old Baptist Tabernacle, that once stood where the First Baptist Church now stands, and pray till far into the night for God to help me hold on and to open up some way. I well remember one morning after a night of wrestling, my room-mate approached me and asked if I needed any money, saying that his parents had sent him more than was necessary for his immediate needs. I told him my condition. He gladly lent me enough to pay up my board for another month.