Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Mrs. Hazel Harvey Peace Passes at a Century
The passing of Mrs. Hazel Harvey Peace, our revered matriarch of education, closes a 100-year chapter in African-American legacy. For better or worse, she helped shape and mold us into what we have become, as a generation. The shadow of her wings stretched over five generations of kids who grew up in the old I.M. Terrell high school tradition. Without repute, she was the greatest role model of our times.
Before the dams break and all the emotional waters of my reservoir come streaming out, let me relish in my reflections of Mrs. Peace, and what she made us feel ourselves to be.
“You can be anything you want to be,” she said defiantly. In the face of a segregated and prejudicial society, she made us believe what nobody else believed, that we had great potential. Mrs. Peace made us believe in ourselves.
When the City of Fort Worth celebrated her centennial birthday on August 4, 2007, it was the first time we realized her true age. Some of us had been guessing for years, and even she thought that she was four years older. It was one of her secret stories of how she disputed with her mother over her true age. And, it was only in her latter years that would she admit it.
Every child who gathered under her wings, from the 1920s to 2008, holds a special place as “one of her children”. To her, we were always “young men” and “young ladies”. She made us feel so grown up and responsible.
She was as feared in her heydays as vice principal as she was revered. All of us, no matter how big or how old, feared this little 98-pound maiden. Just the inflection of her voice caused terror in our hearts. But few students lay across the vice principle’s chair and got paddled by Mrs. Peace.
“I have never whipped a student in my life,” she said, as she directed me to lean over the chair. “But you are an exception.”
Some years later, I asked if she had ever whipped another student. She shouted back, “No! And if you ever tell anyone, I’ll disown you.”
There were other famous alumni who claimed a shellacking from Mrs. Peace. Just to have been chastened by her was considered an honor. And, sometimes her verbal lashing inside the secret chambers of the VP office was more of a beating than she could deliver with a strap. But Eddie Griffin got the real leather.
It was 1963, my best year ever in high school. I was Number One in my class and a student-teacher in our math class. That was the way Mrs. Peace should have remembered the math whiz kid, Eddie Griffin. But she would not have been utterly shocked at Eddie Griffin, the Black Panther bank.
Mrs. Peace should have forgotten Eddie Griffin after my 12 years of incarceration. But she remembered. Though her memory would fade over the next 24 years, she would remember the little math whiz kid.
On her 100th birthday, I took three of my grandchildren to the public library to celebrate the occasion and take pictures with her. I knelt before her rocky chair and presented her my grand babies. The newspaperman took their picture, if for no more than posterity sake.
The book of the times is now closed on this chapter. And Mrs. Hazel Harvey Peace is but a treasured memory. The thousands of children under the wing of her tutelage will sprout wings of their own and bring forth a new generation of educated children. And, in the memory bank of Eddie Griffin, I will remember that episode in 1963.
It was unheard of that an honor student would play hooky from school, just to hang out in the pool hall with dropouts. “Unheard of,” Mrs. Peace shouted as she lifted up off her small frame onto her tiptoes to slam my behind with a leather belt. Unheard of!
We were supposed to be the best that our race had to offer the world. We were the brightest of our generation. We were the generation to whom much was given and much was required. Unheard of, she repeated each time the leather slapped my butt: Unheard of to waste such potential.