With very heavy hearts, we regret to announce the passing from this life of Mrs. Mary Sue Tatum (88) a resident of Chestnut Street, Roanoke, Alabama. Mrs. Tatum transitioned from this life on Saturday, November 27, 2021 at her residence in Roanoke.
In 1903, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois gave birth to an idea he called the “talented tenth.” This idea was a call for higher education among our people to be sure that we would develop strong leaders among the most able 10% of black Americans. Du Bois feared the OVER emphasis on industrial “training” instead of intellectual development. This “talented tenth” would include educated black teachers, professional men, ministers, and spokesmen who would earn their place in society by dedicating themselves to inspiring the masses. 30 years later, Mary Sue Tatum came on the scene — March 16, 1933 — and was among that “talented tenth” Dr. Du Bois had envisioned 30 years earlier. The daughter of the late James and Ida Mae (Heath) Watson, she seized upon every opportunity to grow intellectually, ultimately joining with others who would inspire the masses. How better to reflect on her journey than to read it in her own words, penned in 2011? In this writing she detailed her foray into the field of education. In anticipation of her school reunion, she wrote:
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is a process,
Working together is success.”
It is my honor to share just a few of my many fond memories of my twenty-three years at “Old Randolph,” a journey which I began as a First Grader with Mrs. Betty Jean Peoples, and culminated with my graduation with the R.C.T.S. Class of 1952.
I — along with every other student — was enchanted with R.C.T.S. It was then and there under the spell of Mrs. Peoples that I decided that I, too, wanted to be a teacher, just like her and others who impressed me during my early years including Ruth Hightower and Catherine Davis. Throughout my years in school, under the leadership of such greats as Principal E.S. Peoples, the faculty produced an atmosphere that was both entertaining and engaging. Children clad in blue uniforms signaled strict discipline and high expectations. Motivating assemblies that we called “Chapel Programs” were presented frequently, providing opportunities for youngsters to perform and display their special skills and talents.
Back in those days, the Principal along with every member of the faculty focused on forging a unique bond with each and every student, and working toward every student’s development to the fullest of their ability.
After graduation, I went in pursuit of my dream, and graduated from Alabama A & M University with a degree in Elementary Education. My first teaching job brought me right back to R.C.T.S., where I reunited with many of my former teachers — now as my colleagues. In addition to those who had served as my former teachers, I also formed a close bond with others who had not necessarily taught me, but who nevertherless had made R.C.T.S. their home.
By this time, Dr. Ben A. Outland, my high school English teacher was now Principal of R.C.T.S. and it was a pleasure to come back and have my high school Senior Class Sponsor, Mrs. Countess Chapman, Typing Teacher, Amelia Shumpert, Social Studies Instructor, Evelyn Smedley Smith, and Librarian, Miss Louise Riley, and Thelma Minnifield by my side as I started my teaching career. Along with those teachers who were instrumental in laying my early foundation, I joined an army of this area's best and brightest stars in the province of education, like Lillian Shealey, Evelyn Kendricks, Juanita Shealey Moore, Frances Burney, Hattie P. Clark, Mamie Wilkerson, Alma Outland, Catherine Robinson, Ruby Pinkston, Mable Heard Holley, Carrie Winston, Ernest Heard, J.E. Hendricks, Robert Shorter, Mable McFarland, Johnnie Jackson, Mae Fannie Trimble Ingram, J.D. Hoggs, Jimmie Nell Hairston Staples, Edna Calhoun, Emma T. Jones, Nedrick Thompson, Attrie B. Henderson, Ida Shaw, Earnest Warren, Charles Kidd, E.L. Autry, Anderson Gooden, Julia Hoggs, and Frances Heard.
From my earliest school days until my departure to work in the Roanoke City School System, I witnessed a caravan of exemplary leaders in education including Theodore Gipson, Dr. Warren Minnifield, Dr. B.A. Outland, Herman Shaw and finally Lewis Hoggs.
These are but a few scant memories from the grand and glorious institution that we know and
remember and love, that once served as the heartbeat of the black community, produced some of the nation's finest citizens, and now lingers as a memory of our distant past… never to be forgotten.
In this memoir, her reverence for education is laid bare. Throughout her life, Mary Sue Tatum continued to grow and seek higher ground. As she did so, she continued to inspire others whether through her work with her church family at Peace and Goodwill Baptist Church in Roanoke, or at the District and State level while serving as the very competent and capable Secretary for both the East Alabama District Association, and North East District. She believed in and had a fierce respect for the written word. And she shared this with everyone she met. She was ALWAYS the teacher. Everything else, was icing on the cake — her 44-year marriage to her husband, the late William K. Tatum; breaking down long-standing racial barriers to be among the first black teachers hired to teach in the Roanoke City School System; a professional teaching career spanning 35 years — 23 years at Randolph County Training School followed by 12 years with Roanoke City Schools; the volunteer activities she engaged in after retirement from teaching schools; and her loving, motherly relationship with her nieces and nephews..
On Saturday, November 27, 2021, she crossed that threshhold between mortality and eternity. But, that is not the end of her story. Mary Sue’s spirit will live on in every child who’s mind she touched. Her influence will weigh heavy on the hearts of all who knew and loved her: including her two brothers-in-law: Reverend Myris L. Bell of Roanoke, AL, and Jimmy Tatum of Williamsburg, VA; her sister-in-law, Beatrice Watson of Montgomery, AL; several nephews, nieces, other relatives and friends.
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