The photograph preserves a happier moment during the Great Depression.
Rendered in sepia, Miss Elnora Rush is dressed up for a social occasion and wears a large corsage. In faded ink on the matte, browned with age, is written, “Elnora, 1st Yr Teaching.”
Even now, nearly eight decades later, Mrs. Elnora Rush Hawkins displays the sense of vitality captured in the photograph. On Sunday, she will celebrate a century of life, having seen some of the worst and best things it has to offer.
Hawkins was born in the central Mississippi city of Starkville, September 15, 1913. “It was miserable growing up there,” she says. In fact, it was so miserable she says they called the state, “Miserable-sippi.”
But, she remembers her family life was pleasant. “I had a lovely child-life,” she states. Her parents — her father was a carpenter and her mother a housewife — were strict disciplinarians. “They taught us right from wrong, to obey and to respect older people.” It was “a nice family life.”
She graduated from Oktibbeha County Training School and went straight to college. Hawkins wanted to be a teacher from the get go and enrolled in Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss. Rust College, a historically black college, is where she met her future husband, Joseph Hawkins on campus.
After graduating from Rust with a bachelors degree in elementary education, it was in Clarksdale, Miss. where Hawkins was photographed in a party dress during her first year. She began her teaching career in earnest there at the Coahoma County Agricultural School, where she taught elementary grades.
Bolstered by summer teacher training at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. and Atlanta University, Hawkins would teach for more than forty years.
Her husband. Joseph Hawkins, began his career educating African-American army recruits during World War II. Once the war ended, he segued into teaching local African-American veterans returning from the war. Transitioning into civilian life, he served as the principal of Kelley Grammar School, where his wife taught, later moving to East Depot High School where he served as principal for a number of years.
“He didn’t take anything; he didn’t play,” says Pattie Hawkins, his daughter in law. She said that years later students would approach him say that they wouldn’t have made it in life if not for the discipline he instilled. Elnora Hawkins taught at Kelley Grammar for a few years under her husband’s stern principal-ship before she left for East Depot Elementary.
Elnora Hawkins remained at East Depot Elementary until she retired in 1972. She was there to see the integration of the schools in 1970 which she said, “went smoothly.” During integration, her husband was transferred to LaGrange High School where he was assistant principal until he retired in 1979. Respect for him in the community remained for many years and he was honored as one of the grand marshals of the local Christmas parade in 1992.
Following her motto of “God loves you and I do, too,” Mrs. Hawkins was hardly slowed by retirement. She volunteered at the hospital eventually being honored for providing 2,000 hours of service. She’s intensely proud of the pins she’s been given honoring her service.
Her church, Warren Temple United Methodist Church, has also been on the receiving end of Mrs. Hawkins’ time and that’s where the celebration of her century of life will be held on Sunday afternoon, September 15, at 1:30 p.m. All those who have known Mrs. Hawkins are invited to attend.
Pattie Hawkins notes that her mother-in-law was driving until about six months ago, “her family had to tell her to stop. Thank goodness the car needed a battery.” Elnora Hawkins’ battery, though slowed a bit by age, still keeps going.