Mattye Murray was born in Athens in 1929, the daughter of sharecroppers. She was a graduate of Trinity High School, served in the Air Force, attended Tuskegee Institute, graduated from Alabama A& M, taught at her high school alma mater as well as Tanner High, and that’s just the beginning of her accomplishments.
I spent a marvelous afternoon learning from her what it was like to grow up here during the Depression and the Jim Crow era. In an odd way, the Depression served to suppress some of the vitriol that became more prevalent during the Civil Rights era. “We worked side by side, and helped each other,” she told me. This is not the first time I have heard this from older people of all colors who were dependent upon each other to get the harvest in.
“I was blessed to complete high school,” she said, and she graduated from Trinity in 1948. A few years later she joined the Air Force, spending 4 years in service to our country, and received training in food service. She served amongst some of the Airmen of Tuskegee fame, and finished her military career in 1955.
She was able to get her bachelor’s degree in business education, and began her teaching career at Trinity in 1962. She taught there until 1970, when Trinity was closed. “We lived through desegregation,” a wild time for everyone. I asked her what it was like to go to Tanner to teach, and her smile said it all. “Oh, they were sweet to me.” She became everyone’s “Auntie,” and spent the rest of her teaching career there.
Miss Mattye never married, and is the devoted Aunt of several nieces and nephews. One of her nephews, Vada Hill, dropped in during the interview, and what was already an enjoyable afternoon became even more so. He told me about her voracious love of reading, and as a Harvard University history graduate himself, he was specific about such favorite books as Dr. Zhivago, and Theodore White’s works on John F Kennedy, who, by the way, is her favorite president.
Prior to Vada’s arrival, Miss Mattye and I sang “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” together, in honor of Judy Garland, her favorite actress. And, we spoke at length about “To Kill A Mockingbird,” a favorite novel and movie for both of us.
Vada says she makes a dandy sweet potato pie, “and she also kept my report cards from the 9th grade.” Her favorite Bible verse? I Thessalonians 5: 21, which says, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Her advice to young people? “Keep God in your life.” Amen to both.
She has only been at Athens Rehab since September, and has been going through the adjustment that invariably comes from giving up one’s life long home. “They are good to me here,” she says, and are always inviting me to activities.” “Do you go? They have wonderful activities here,” I said. “Not yet, but I am going to,” she promised. Then we prayed and hugged, and I was on my way, but not before I told Miss Mattye that she had made my day, because she had.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner