With the creation of five new rural high schools in Kershaw County in 1923 came new learning experiences for these new high school students. Antioch, Blaney, Charlotte Thompson, Midway, and Mt. Pisgah not only offered the basic courses of English, Math, Science and Social Studies but soon offered such vocational subjects as Agriculture and Home Economics.
With these vocational courses came the creation of chapters in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Junior Homemakers of America (JHA). These were state and national organizations with programs geared to the needs of students in these vocational tracts. Clemson College and the State Department of Education provided resources and staff to facilitate the operation of these two organizations.
Many of the students enrolled in these vocational courses also were members of the local FFA and JHA chapters. The school faculty members teaching these courses were the sponsors of these two school organizations. I personally was a member of the Midway Chapter of the FFA, 1942-46. I accepted the FFA Motto: Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Learning to Live, Living to Learn
The principal and agriculture teacher at Midway during most of my high school years was J. Hoke Murphree. He had come to Midway about January 1942 to replace Ford B. Stamton who had been called into military service. When Stanton reclaimed his position at Midway about January 1946, the community and students were heartbroken. J. Hoke Murphree had become very popular and was much beloved by all.
Alice Murphree Kelsey, J. Hoke Murphree’s daughter, recently related to me, “My parents always held fond memories of their time at Midway and of the people there. Living in Kershaw County was a rewarding and happy time in their lives.”
Studying agriculture taught by Mr. Murphree and participating in FFA activities under his tutelage greatly influenced the lives of many of us in the Cassatt Community during WWII. To illustrate those influences, I am going to relate some autobiographical paragraphs which describe his influences on my life. Agriculture teachers in the other county rural high schools likely had similar influences on their students.
In the 1930s I had witnessed the dust storms in our community caused by soil erosion in the mid-west which created the “dust bowl” there. Gullies and eroded soil were also in plain sight throughout our community. When Murphree began to teach us the importance of caring far and preserving the soil, it was an “easy sell.” Murphree also taught us about wind rows or breaks and the need for reforestation.
Murphree soon taught us how to lay off terraces in a field with a surveying level owned by the school. Donald Holland and I would use this knowledge to lay off dozens of terraces on farms in the Cassatt community during WWII.
We learned about seed, fertilizer, planting and cultivating crops, raising livestock, planting fruit trees,.etc. in our agriculture classes and in FFA activities.
In our classes each person had to have a farm related project. Since I had learned to hunt bee trees by the age of 12, I chose bee keeping as a project. At one point during my high school days I had about a dozen bee hives. Murphree supplied me with just about every pamphlet Clemson College had on the subject plus other literature. Many local families enjoyed some of my honey including that of my future wife.
Murphree planned many field trips for us, one of which was a trip to Mulberry Plantation. Unfortunately, I did not fully appreciate what Mulberry had to offer at the time since I was unaware of the historical significance of the Plantation and its former owners.
I remember one trip in which I accompanied Murphree and the agriculture teacher from Baron De Kalb, J. A. Talley, to an FFA event around the Batesburg Leesville area. Since the greatest distance I had traveled from my home was to Columbia at that time, Murphree extended my geographical horizon by some 20 miles or so by this trip.
On the trip we saw some level black-soil fields which appeared to be much better framing land than the sand hills around Cassatt. I was reminded of what one comedian jokingly wrote when describing the Sand Hills. “The lands are poor and the people are too. If they don’t steal, what will they do?“
A trip to Tamassee near Wahalla at the end of my senior year in high school where J. H. Murphree had just become the Camp Director further extended my geographical horizons. While there Murphree took us on many side trips around the mountains in the area including a visit to Andrew Pickens' home site.
Other FFA Activities
One of the activities of the FFA was public speaking. I won the school and county speaking contests and then won the state-wide contest in Columbia. At Raleigh, N. C., in the regional contest with Ga., N. C. & S. C., I came in second.
Our FFA meetings were conducted under Roberts Rules of Order. One of our tasks was to learn and then practice these rules in our meetings. To this day I can recount which motion has precedence over another and I remain current on parliamentary procedure.
We often discussed current events in Murphree’s FFA meetings. That required us to keep abreast of topics in the news.With loved ones in the armed forces, we required very little motivation to follow war news from Europe and the Pacific.
Since current events also often involved government, Murphree took the liberty to include details about voting and he stressed the importance of doing so. He also taught us how to judge the veracity of political speeches.
Voting, following the news, etc. were more in the area of the Social Studies than Agriculture. However, Murphree, as school principal, knew the FFA in our small rural high school provided him the opportunity to incorporate additional subject matter beyond his own field of instruction. Murphree always sought to give us a well-rounded education.
Murphree encouraged FFA members to participate in FFA activities. Donald Holland and I both held an office in the S. C. FFA headquartered in Columbia. A younger brother and his team from Midway won an FFA livestock judging contest and went to Kansas City, Mo.
J. Hoke Murphree’s Legacy
After high school I served a hitch in the U.S. Army. I then enrolled in USC and earned my teaching credentials and became a teacher, school administrator and a member of the staff of the S.C. Department of Education.
Although not following agriculture as a profession, Murphree’s influence on me in many other ways have been invaluable. He expanded my horizons, taught me public speaking, how to preside over meetings, to love learning, to assess information critically, how to vote, how to be a good citizen, plus a host of other lessons I learned just by being around him and watching the behavior modeled by this good and honorable man. All of which have helped mold me into the person I am today.
Mr. J. Hoke Murphree passed away several decades ago. Today, I so fondly remember him as my high school principal, teacher, and mentor and thank him for what he contributed to my life. All Midway alumni join with me in a toast to his memory and in his honor.