Memorial for Mrs. Duma McCluney
all the teachers I had in Rector High School, Duma McCluney had the
greatest impact on me. She was alive in every way, and
challenged every student to think. To Mrs. McCluney, the main
responsibility of an American citizen was to stay informed about important
issues that affected their lives and to vote for the best person,
regardless of party (she was, however, a lifelong Democrat). Public
service was an honor and an obligation, and she expected the best from
those who offered themselves for elected office. Mrs. McCluney
would have been horrified at today's lack of interest in voting.
She expected her students to be active in civic affairs, to be informed,
and to participate. She believed that high school students were
fully capable of thinking as responsible adults and she sought to prepare
us to be good citizens in the fullest sense.
In an era before
interstate highways and cable television, when newspapers and the Memphis
TV stations were the only sources of information, a big thrill was
tracking the state and national elections with Mrs. McCluney. She
prodded us to think for ourselves. Each of us was expected to have
a point of view if we were in her class, and we had to defend it.
recall how indignant she was at Governor Orval Faubus for setting
Arkansas's international image back a century at Central High in Little
Rock when he closed it down as a way to get popular support for his
election to an unprecedented third term. Those were tumultuous
times in Arkansas history, and very confusing. Faubus was a master
politician and very persuasive, but she turned against him for that
action. While we sat in our lily-white rural school, our
counterparts from Little Rock lost their chance to graduate. They
had to live with relatives all over the state in order to finish high
school. Mrs. McCluney was open-minded and helped us work through
trying to understand the consequences of that awful incident. The
last black Rector resident (and former slave) had only recently died, who
was the only link to that way of life, and it was easy to get caught up in
the rhetoric when we were not even affected. Isolated as we were,
we were not spared from the emotional divisions of racism, and feelings
ran hot and high. Mrs. McCluney very cautiously guided us through
this rocky path. In her class we could work through the issues and
learned to respect differing points of view within a democratic framework.
And at a time when "nigger" was an accepted part of the Arkansas
vocabulary, Duma McCluney challenged her classes to understand what the
term "equal protection before the law" was intended to mean, and she
brooked no slur on any person. She always came down on the side of doing
what was right.
She loved politics and she loved
governmental process. In the sleepy days of the Eisenhower
administration, she was a fan of Senator Lyndon Johnson, who was then the
Senate Majority Leader, and who could get things done. Under Mrs.
McCluney we had to know the name and mission of very department of
government and every member of the Cabinet. I never got out of the
Duma McCluney had the rare capacity to look inside
her students and identify something special and she could then motivate
them to use those gifts to become more than they expected of themselves.
She never stopped teaching, and she never stopped learning.
She followed her students long after they were gone.
There is no
greater legacy a teacher can leave than the collective gratitude of
generations of past students whose lives have been made richer for having
been a part of her life's work. Duma McCluney lives on. Well
Charles T. Crow (Charlie)
Class of 1958