Ever been to Zama, Mississippi? It’s in Attala County. From Oxford, it’s a little over two hours south and a bit east. During the Super Bowl of 2011 a tornado hit Zama and caused a good amount of damage. Zama is where my grandfather Everett Adams was born back in 1897. He would live a century and a year. I wanted to share his remarkable life story with you.
Granpapa, as I would call him later in life, grew up near Zama outside Ethel, Mississippi near the Yockanookany River. Myrtis Lucille Gregory Methvin was also born there two years before him. She would later become the second woman to serve as mayor of a community in Louisiana. I wonder if Everett ever took a shine to her?
Young Everett lived on a farm and went to church with his family in an ox wagon with oxen named Rock and Raleigh. He went to a one teacher school with no blackboards, just walls painted black. His teacher had no college education, just a calling to be a teacher and told the kids he was a teacher. The adjoining community had a two-teacher school and his daddy let him ride a mule six miles to it. The school stopped at 11th grade. Its curriculum didn’t have enough for a diploma. The principal gave Everett a certificate that had Everett “was a well schooled young man” on it.
Everett went to Mississippi College with that certificate and $25. The Registrar took a long hard look at that certificate and had an expression like she was looking at a death certificate. “Mr. Adams,” she said, “you don’t have anything to enter college on, but we will give you a chance.” He carried everything his first year except math, which he dropped.
“You’ve got to have a sound foundation in math when you get to classes like theory of equations,” he would say years later. He spent $130 for his whole freshman year including tuition, board, food, books and train fare.
After a little college, The Great War started. Everett was a sickly man growing up, never weighing over 118 pounds despite being 5’11. He didn’t get accepted in the military, but there was a crying need for teachers and he answered it. He took the state teachers exam in Mississippi and passed it. Soon afterwards he got a letter from a school in South Carolina saying he had been elected principal there. He’d never even taught a class at any level at that point. Well, schools in Mississippi needed principals so he passed on the South Carolina offer and became principal of a two-teacher school in Holmes County, making $75 a month. Before long he was principal/teacher of a five teacher school in Bethesda.
He worked his tail off there, often staying up past midnight preparing lesson plans. There were sharp kids in that school, and Everett took them to the Literary Academy Competition where the big schools were labeled ‘A’ and the little ones ‘B.’ His school scored more points than all the other ‘B’ schools put together. In typical humble fashion, he gave every bit of the credit to the kids.
Buford Ellington was one of the students. To this day when I deliver motivational talks to teachers, I tell them they may have a Buford Ellington in their class. This kid, from a poor part of Holmes County, would go on to become a two-term governor of Tennessee. In 1967, Ellington appointed African-American Hosea Lockard to his cabinet as his administrative assistant. He was the first black cabinet member in Tennessee state history.
Everett married Ruth Riley at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 16, 1921. They wanted to get married for a while but it took them years to save up enough money to start a life together. The regular Presbyterian minister was out of town that day so the Reverend W.A. Bowling, a Methodist circuit preacher, married them. He goofed up and called them Mr. and Mrs. E.L. Blanton. Ruth’s brother Dick hauled off and punched him. They married so early in the day so they could catch the train to New Orleans for their honeymoon and missed it, so they went to the old Durant Hotel instead.
With that mention of Durant, longtime Ole Miss folks can take a moment to reflect on Bufurd McGee, former Rebels running back out of Durant.
Now, back to the story. Everett and Ruth Adams would go on to be married for over 71 years. Granpapa ended up being a teacher, principal and/or superintendent for 42 years. The highest salary he ever made was $6,000 a year at Itta Bena High School. He also worked part-time at the cotton gin in Sidon that year. He and Gram, as I called her, raised six wonderful children – three girls and three boys – including my dad Charlie Adams, Sr.
To make ends meet he would work summers for extra income. He used the kayser blade on the highways. He would hew cross ties, work at the sawmill or be a bookkeeper at the cotton gin, whatever he could to help the family.
They retired to a cozy home in Morgan City in the Delta not far from Sidon and not terribly far from Greenwood. I have fond memories of many two hour trips from Oxford to Morgan City when I was growing up. Granpapa maintained a rose garden and a big ol’ vegetable garden. He could polish off cornbread and milk like nobody’s business. We shared a common love of baseball and would sit out on nights in the screened porch listening to the St. Louis Cardinals or whatever broadcast he could pick up.
Granpapa died on the evening of September 2, 1998 of pneumonia. He was 101. Among those paying their respects at the visitation were students of his from the 1920s that made drives to share the impact he had on them, staying up past midnight working on lesson plans, fortifying them with confidence, helping develop the Buford Ellington’s of the world.
Everett Louis Adams, Sr. was buried next to his wife Ruth in Kosiesko, Mississippi.
Charlie will share more of life insights from his grandfather including his thoughts on what it took to connect with children and much more.
Charlie Adams was born in Oxford in 1962. He was a 1980 graduate of Lafayette High School and a 1985 graduate of Ole Miss. Following a television news career, Charlie has focused on delivering inspirational keynotes, seminars and writings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.