STAMP OF SUCCESS
By Carolyn Bahm
ECRU Joe and Gloria High of Ecru live up to their last name: They’re “high” on equality among people.
The couple are the first black postmasters in two Northeast Mississippi cities: Gloria, originally from Smithville, came to work in Blue Springs in 1992 and her appointment as postmaster became official in January 1993. Joe, an Ecru native, took his position as Aberdeen’s postmaster two years ago. He’s been in postal work for 30 years; she, for 15 years.
About his own firsts in making African-American history, Joe High said, “I think that opened the doors for other blacks that are trying to move up the career ladder. Somebody has to be first in all walks of life.”
Both postmasters said they enjoy good working relationships with their customers and employees.
Gloria said skills in getting along with people helped in her own early postal career. “People were nice, but I had to do a lot of proving. … I felt like they thought I’d just been given something, but I really earned what I got.”
The postal work looks easy, she said, but it’s both challenging and absorbing.
She smiled at the idea of being a civil rights pioneer. Work was not her first blazed trail. In 1967, the national desegration plan forced her to change schools for her senior year. Gloria McKinney High was among about a half-dozen black students to enroll at Hatley High School then, but she was the only 12th-grader. The reluctant teens were flanked by law enforcement officers when they entered their new school.
Gloria had hoped to escape being the “first” so she could enjoy her senior year at West Amory High School, but it was not to be. “They told me it had to start with someone, and I thought, ‘Me? Of all people.’ “
She counts the move as a positive life-shaping experience today. “Had I been a weak person, I might have dropped out of school, but I couldn’t see myself doing that. I had goals.”
Her strong-willed father bolstered her courage. “He believed in himself, and I believe he taught me that,” Gloria said. “I don’t believe he would have tolerated me saying, ‘I just don’t want to go to that school.’ He was a fighter.”
In her old school, Gloria had been a member of the chorus and various clubs. She had hoped to gain the Miss West Amory Pageant title her senior year. (She had been runner-up her junior year.)
She instead faced a different world, but she gained pride in her own strength. She also recalls the kind, decent people who welcomed her. She particularly remembers her new school’s principal, Winslow Cox.
“We had a dynamite principal, because evidently he had really talked to those students and told them they’d better behave,” she said, giggling. “I really didn’t have any trouble.”
He encouraged her to take part in the Neighborhood Youth Program, just as she had at the West Amory school. When Gloria agreed, he promptly put her to work prominently in the Hatley school’s office.
“I was surprised,” Gloria said. “… He didn’t have to do that for me, but he did.”
People were nice, but the year was still lonely. The studying was more intensive. The gregarious teen-ager also felt isolated, and she believed everyone at her new school was looking at her.
“I didn’t want anybody to see me cry, but I wore dark glasses and I’d sit in that library,” Gloria said softly.
Classroom friends like Cheryl Parham Cooper, a childhood playmate, made the days easier. Gloria’s naturally warm personality eventually won her a circle of more good friends.
“I was always taught you could carry yourself and people could get along with you,” she said. “And I wanted all the respect I could get. And I did get a lot of respect, being that it was 1967 and at that school. By the end of that year, I had all kinds of friends.”
She graduated from Hatley and went to work in a garment factory until the next January. An older sister was finishing college, and the family had no immediate money for Gloria to start her college education that same fall. Gloria’s Amory teachers, alarmed at the delay, bombarded her with messages. They urged Gloria to drop the job and get back on the education track.
“They didn’t believe me,” Gloria said, smiling and shaking her head. “They kept calling me to go to college. And that’s why it’s so good to have good teachers.”
She went to college the next spring, then came home after that first semester when her money ran out. Her father was out of a job and couldn’t help financially, but he passed along his confidence and a strong, proud attitude. He told her to get a four-year degree, that she could and should do it.
“My dad just had an eighth-grade education, but he was a whiz in math,” Gloria said. “And he would tell us, ‘You can do whatever you want to do.’ ”
Then her aunt heard about federal student loans and passed the word. With new funding, Gloria re-entered college that September and worked at the garment factory during spring breaks and summer vacations. She graduated from Alcorn A & M College in the fall of 1972.
“I didn’t have time to worry about people’s prejudices,” she said. “I had a goal in mind, and I had to persevere.”
Today, she enjoys her postal career and continues to study black history. She is an avid fan of Black History Month and loves watching television specials on her heroine, Harriet Tubbman. She also collects black art and the black heritage postal stamps.
Her advice to hopeful black professionals facing prejudices today is on endurance. “We can’t dwell on racism. We’ve got to be strong and persevere and move on.”