The UnSung Heroes of Edgecombe County....Legacy of Elaine B. Tyson
A few mornings ago, we were eating breakfast and talking together; my Auntie and "I".Even now, at her age of 83, the moment seemed no different than it did when I used to sit beside her at the same table with legs that couldn't touch the floor. In the midst of our conversation the phone rang several times with people asking advice, other family members checking in, friends congratulating her on her recent awards.
I had been struggling with a decision that needed to make concerning my future and my direction in life. As always, she had words of encouragement and the effortless, straightforward wisdom that seemed to make it all better.
It was at that moment that "I" realized just how much her wisdom and her love had meant to me and to so many others over the years. "You need a Love greater than Love", she'd always say. It's taken me years to put that statement into MY perspective and to understand what she really meant. I can't honestly say that I have ALWAYS agreed with her “method to the madness”, but I can say I have ALWAYS respected it. After all, no matter what, you can not argue with facts and the truth. It is more than obvious that the decisions that she has made over the years has yielded for her a happy, loving, and prosperous life. By whatever means at her disposal, she has accomplished whatever goal she set out to achieve. As for myself, though I didn’t ALWAYS agree, that was a fact I could NOT boast.
I realized that, like so many of her cohorts, she was one of the many unsung heroes and dedicated local legacies in our community. She had gone away to better herself with higher education and returned to her community, her place of origin, to give back and to replenish the things she had taken from it.
The Early Years
In her early years, Auntie grew-up with her 2 younger sisters and older brother on a farm in Kingsboro, a rural area between Rocky Mount and Tarboro, North Carolina. She attended Kingboro Rosenwald School where she also “discovered” her childhood sweetheart and husband of 50 years, James Henry Tyson. The school was one of 26 built in Edgecombe County through the Rosenwald Rural School Building Program in the early 1900s. After completing all she could there, she continued to G.W. Carver High School in Pinetops, N.C. where she completed her high school diploma.
That was just the beginning for Auntie. In August of 1946, she attended Winston Salem State University, then known as Winston Salem Teachers College, in Winston Salem, N.C. In May of 1949, Auntie graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education.
After graduation from Winston Salem, Auntie returned home to teach at her former grade school, Kingsboro Rosenwald School. She taught first through third grade for several years at Kingsboro before going on to become a first grade teacher at G.W. Bullock School in Edgecombe County. In a recent interview she mentioned, the Rosenwald School didn’t have indoor bathrooms, or a kitchen, and resources were hard to come by, but, the school was full of love.
Considering the fact that Auntie was MY first grade teacher, I knew that the fullness of love in that school came from her. She brought it with her everyday she came in to teach, and she left some of it there when she went home at night. In my first grade days there was no school cafeteria and we brought our own lunches to school. Time after time I had seen the tears swell up in hers eyes at discovering a child in our class was hungry and had nothing to eat. At first I would wonder how all of a sudden that child was eating a mysterious lunch. Then I would notice that Auntie was sitting quietly at her desk reading a magazine or a newspaper, but she was not eating the lunch she had brought to school that morning. That’s when I knew where that child’s mysterious lunch had come from.
Though Auntie’s degree was in education and that of being a teacher, I remember so many of the hats she wore through the course of a day. She was a seamstress, a nurse, a beautician, a psychologist, a referee, a disciplinary, and I guess her hugs and words of encouragement made her a pseudo mother of many. To this day I will always think that she is the one who truly coined the phrase, “You are somebody”.
Rosenwald School Teacher's Award
Auntie’s 34 years of dedication and love for education is one of the reasons I am so glad that she was honored as being one of the original premier Rosenwald School teachers. She, along with four other Rosenwald teachers, was initially honored on May 7th, 2012, by the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners.
She and those same teachers were again honored on May 26th 2012 with a banquet at Roberson School, also an Edgecombe County Rosenwald School. The banquet was sponsored by the Perry-Weston Institute to honor these teachers who had given so much of themselves in dedicated and unselfish service to the community.
Legacies are not created by living one’s dreams through someone else, or by watching other’s accomplish the things they know they are capable of achieving. Legacies are created by those who, against all odds, ridicules, and obstacles, say I can and I will accomplish this. Legacies start their dreams from the heart and work them into fruition. They are undaunted by negativity and always finds the light in all the dark corners. Legacies don’t care about recognition or the spot light as long as something good and beneficial is a result of their works. There is no pay for being a legacy. In fact, most legacies dig into their own pockets to fulfill monetary obligations. The most amazing thing is that most living legacies haven’t stopped working long enough to realize that is what they are.
Though we are all proud of her, and no one could be more deserving, Auntie’s legacy doesn’t begin with just the Rosenwald Teacher’s award. No… it started years before that. In 1984 she had a major concern for the political structure and the apparent “unawareness” in Rocky Mount. She realized that one of the main reasons that so many qualified public officials and candidates were not voted into office was simply because people in the community did not get out and vote. After taking her own assessment she realized too that not only were people not familiar with the candidates and their platforms, but also, many of the eligible voters in the community were not even registered to vote. She discovered that so many, especially the economically disadvantaged, did not know how to go about registration.
And thus her mission began to both educate and register as many eligible voters that she possibly could. She not only went to and sponsored voter registration meetings, she went door to door, walking mile upon mile throughout Rocky Mount’s communities registering voters and explaining as much of the political process as she could. She had a way of making those who would normally not be receptive pay attention. In most cases, she registered at least one person from each and every door she knocked on. Throughout her plight she never stopped to keep a count or record her activities except to make sure that each and every form was filled out correctly.
Sometime just before the next local election at that time, the Board of Elections made an amazing discovery. Who was this person? After weeks and months of plowing through inclement weather, through almost frightening situations, through fatigue and illness, Auntie had accomplished the unimaginable. By local election time she had managed to register 2041 unregistered voters, the number equivalent to the average number of voters in a given Rocky Mount Ward. To this day no one else has remotely come close to achieving this record.
Even before the voter registration feat, outstanding achievement without realizing it was a way of life for Auntie. Political correctness was never important to her, especially when it came to a person’s civil rights and well-being. Always an advocate for justice, fairness, and just plain “doing what is right”, for years Auntie dedicated her efforts to finding solutions to problems and situations that went beyond normal everyday brainstorming. In the early 80’s some of those problems and situations merited intervention by major groups such as the NAACP. For as long as I can remember Auntie has been a supporter both monetarily, mentally, and physically to the efforts of the NAACP. Not only has she been active in membership drives, she has also been an active participant in NAACP activities and programs.
Auntie’s years of dedicated service to the NAACP merited for her the 1981 Outstanding Woman Award. Although this is one of many over the years, I believe this is one that meant a great deal to her as a recipient.
After sitting down to write this I realized that I could never include the more than 50 years of Auntie’s achievements, accomplishments, and awards. I am hoping though that I have included just some of the achievements that have been most important to her. She has always said to my siblings, my friends, to me, and to so many others who were per chance fortunate enough to share any part of her life, that we must never forget where we have come from. To that end I could not conclude this without attempting to describe her love for her Alumni and the work she has done to ensure that it remains a viable and productive entity in Rocky Mount.
With this description, I really don’t know where to begin. Her work with the Winston Salem State Alumni has been just as profound as her labor with thousands of different idiosyncrasies in her classroom for 34 years. The first point I believe would be to mention her undying love for the University that began her direction in life and has remained an intricate part of the successes of that life. From student recruitment, to providing scholarships, to community services, to Master and Miss Ram programs, she has never taken her hand out of alumni activities, nor her heart from the University itself.
One of the things that stand out in my mind is Auntie’s scholarship fundraising events. Over the years she has helped to sponsor many Master and Miss Ram fundraising events that usually generated both scholarship funds added to the pot and new interest in pursuing higher education at WSSU. Outside of the fact that it was just plain fun to watch the kids perform, i.e., singing, dancing, poetry, and etc, the events always had its’ educational and historical points as well. Many of the kids that Auntie helped to sponsor in this competition usually won due to her unyielding pursuit of support for her kid.
Auntie has also been an avid recruiter. We all have watched her convince an upcoming high school grad that Winston Salem State was the place for them to go. She encouraged higher education at any University or college, but she never passed on the opportunity to do a sales pitch for her alma mater that she loved so dearly. Not only did she engage in “casual” conversation to students about WSSU, she was always a fundamental worker and supporter of the annual WSSU College Roundup. She has helped to setup booths and distribute enrollment and scholarship information about WSSU at institutions such as Edgecombe Community College. At these events, her enthusiasm was probably enough to strike interest from students of every walk of life.
Overall, Auntie’s dedication to her alumni is obvious, but never flamboyant; persuasive and enthusiastic, but never arrogant; always encouraging and honest, but never deceitful or boastful. It is easy to understand Auntie’s latest Alumni award. It was inevitable and definitely well deserved.
WSSU Outstanding Service Award
In the midst of the demonstrations of gratitude and the displays of admiration, you will hear Auntie say time and time again; “You didn’t have to do that..You shouldn’t have done that.. I haven’t done anything I wasn’t supposed to do”. But yes Auntie, we do have to do this as much and as often as we can. I could not possibly have included every act of kindness or your every achievement in this blog. I could not have described all the encouragement you’ve given or the epic inspiration you have shown over the years. To that end, hopefully the best we can do, the best we need to do is to constantly remind you of how wonderfully special you are to so many and to the community. You were the one who said that we should always remember where we came from. For me, and many, many others, you ARE where we came from in so many ways. Just as you have given back to those who touched and helped to direct your life…WE must do the same. You Auntie, are our role model, our heroine, and our inspiration. You Elaine B. Tyson, are the unsung living legacy whose story will never end. And for that we will always give back to you…”A Love Greater than Love!!!”