Excerpt: 'Count Them One by One' By Gordon Martin


After three years in Pennsylvania, Reverend Hopson decided, without consulting his wife, to re-enter the service. Separation, followed by divorce, was inevitable. Eloise returned alone to Mississippi, teaching at a small school in Neshoba County, the county that would become infamous for the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. The principal of her Neshoba school suggested that she start summer graduate work with others from the school at Columbia University. Black teachers had to travel north for the graduate study that was closed to them in Mississippi, and her summers at Columbia in New York City opened up new literature and ideas for Eloise. She was awarded a Master of Arts degree in English in December 1953.

In Neshoba County, Eloise had been making $1,800 a year, $200 a month for nine months. She didn't know what teachers in the white schools were making because there was no contact between black and white teachers. She told a fellow student at Columbia of her financial woes and learned that teacher was making twice as much in Florence, South Carolina. That system needed an English teacher and Eloise was hired. For nine years, she taught English at Wilson High School in Florence, a city slightly larger than Hattiesburg. She noted that Wilson High School, though also segregated, had much better supplies and equipment than the black schools she knew in Mississippi. In Florence, Eloise paid her poll tax and voted for the first time.

But in the summer of 1959, her mother suffered a second stroke back in Clarke County. Eloise had met Nathaniel Burger, principal of Hattiesburg's black high school, Rowan, while teaching in Florence and, in fact, had applied to teach there at Burger's suggestion. Then Burger had told her that Mr. Blair, the white superintendent, had decided that her salary was too high; he would hire a less expensive "girl" right out of college. Though Eloise was annoyed, she'd been happy in Florence so it hadn't mattered. But it was different after her mother's illness, and this time the move to Hattiesburg worked out.

She was interviewed by Superintendent Blair, who asked her various personal questions such as her marital status, and then asked whether she thought all children should be educated equally. Eloise replied:

I'm not sure that all children can be educated equally. What you are able to learn starts way back, and I'm not sure that we can educate them all alike. But I think all of them ought to have the same opportunity. Then each one will take from the system what he is able to take.

Mr. Blair liked that, telling Burger, "She's got all the right answers." Armed with the letter she insisted upon from the superintendent and the chairman of the school board offering her a position, she broke her contract with Florence and came to Hattiesburg.

Eloise taught English at Rowan High School for 14 years, and also gave private piano lessons. When one of her pupils, Gay Polk-Payton, was seven and beginning piano, Ms. Hopson rapped her fingers with a pencil when she made a mistake. Gay ran out of the house and never returned, but her sister stayed with her lessons and loved Ms. Hopson.

When she came back to Mississippi, Eloise tried to register to vote as she had in Florence. She was denied that right after some of the standard Lynd rigmarole. But Lynd actually gave her the test before pronouncing her unqualified.

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