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From rural poverty to educational leadership, Wimbish pens her story

South Boston News
Annie Wimbish with her new book.
SoVaNow.com / July 06, 2020
“It’s not where you come from, it’s where you are going that makes the difference,” writes Annie Wimbish in her new book, “Rubber Bands On My Socks: The Reflections of a Sharecropper’s Daughter: Family, Poverty, Potential and Progress.”

Wimbish, one of six children of Halifax County sharecroppers Johnnie and Annie Mae Richardson, rose from a hardscrabble rural upbringing to become superintendent of schools for Hattiesburg, Miss., one of the state’s largest school districts.

“I was the first female and only the second African American superintendent, making the highest salary of any superintendent in Mississippi at the time,” she recounts in her book. “History was being made.”

Wimbish, who now lives in Vernon Hill, said she moved forward with writing the book after receiving positive feedback with the job she took after she ended her stint as Hattiesburg superintendent.

She resigned that position in 2010, and now serves as partner and executive consultant with Leadership Solutions Group, LLC. Wimbish leads seminars and Zoom sessions geared toward leadership and development training.

During these seminars on leadership, whenever the time came to wrap up, “I would give a summary of my life, sharing some hardships or struggles from my past,” she said.

On many occasions, seminar participants would come up to her and say she should write a book about her life, Wimbish said. That tapped into an ambition 20 years in the making — roughly the span of time Wimbush had kicked around the idea of penning an autobiography. With her consulting work giving her the latitude to do the research and the writing, it would take Wimbish two years to turn her long-simmering dream into a 160-page volume.

One idea behind the project, she said, was to inform younger generations of the hardships and struggles that African Americans have had to overcome in their journey to the present. But Wimbish encountered an early stumbling block in her research: she was unable to locate photos or much information about life in Halifax County’s black community during the 1950s,’60s, and ‘70s.

She mostly wrote the book based off of her memories, and “that was fearful because what if it was not accurate?” Wimbush researched whatever materials she could find at the Halifax County Tourism Office and both library branches in South Boston and Halifax. She did find some helpful information at the L.E. Coleman Museum that is incorporated in her book.

Young Annie Richardson’s educational journey began inside a one-room schoolhouse, Mountain Road School, near the family farm in Vernon Hill. (It was a different school than Mountain Road School 1, now the site of the L.E. Coleman Museum. The school Wimbish attended as a young girl in the Vernon Hill area is no longer standing.) A vibrant child, she describes growing up on the family farm, with her father, Johnnie, achieving success in agriculture with a knack for shed building, vegetable growing — “a gardener among gardeners” and other talents for bringing in money. Her mother, writes Wimbish, was “a spitfire.”

Despite many happy times together, her parents fought often — her father was violent and abusive, and her mother fought him off as best she could, although “it was gut-wrenching and scary for us all to watch Momma” suffer beatings at his hands, Wimbish writes. Her father cheated on her mother with other women, and became callous and indifferent to the children as time wore on. “I am ashamed to say that there were times I’d wish he’d die in a car accident over the weekend so that he and Mom would not fight,” she writes.

“I thank God that he did not allow an early death for Dad, but instead, gave him longevity so that I learned to love him again, deeply, in my older years,” she recounts in her book.

An excellent student, Wimbish moved on from elementary school to the Mary Bethune School for the county’s black students in the Jim Crow era. Wimbish was in eighth grade when Halifax County, under a court order for Virginia schools to fully integrate, combined its classes for white and black students.

Wimbish recalled that even with integration, many classes at the high school remained segregated. She was placed into advanced classes at Halifax County High School, and most of her classmates were white. Not until later would she learn of the obstacles that kept other talented African American students from rising with her.

She moved on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Averett College, now University, in 1981, and master’s and Ed.S degrees from the University of Virginia. She received her doctorate from Fayetteville State University. In addition to her ongoing consulting work, today she sits on the Averett Unversity Board of Trustees.

A teacher and principal in her 30-plus years in education, her career included a stint at C.H. Friend Elementary in the mid-eighties, when she taught fourth grade. (Her name at that time was Annie Peters.) In 1990 she married Ray Wimbish, a staff sergeant with the U.S. Army. They moved to Savannah, Ga., where he was stationed, then to Mississippi. Ray, a retired warrant officer, and Annie moved back to Halifax County to live in Vernon Hill, where Annie grew up.

She hopes her book will inspire others to pursue their dreams and not give up easily — because with life, there are always tragedies and triumphs, failures and successes.

The title, “Rubber Bands On My Socks,” comes from a conversation she had with a member of the custodial staff for Hattiesburg Public Schools. The custodian suggested the approach for holding up socks with the elastic worn out. “Rubber Bands On My Socks” became a metaphor for holding up despite adversity.

“I want the book to inspire hope,” said Wimbish. “People look at the successful woman I am today, but they need to know life is hard and we still can make our lives better.”

That’s true in Halifax County, as much as anywhere else in the world.

“I always knew when I left, I’d return home,” said Wimbish.

Her soft cover book was published in January and is available for purchase online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google and Outskirts Press. The book is available in print and Kindle versions.



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Comments

My kids had to sit through one of her presentations at a school function. My daughter did not like it one bit, said she made her feel bad about being white. This counter culture has to stop. The inmates are running state government. Once of the most beautiful streets in the nation, a national historic landmark is being destroyed while we speak. And you print something like this?

Comments

Your daughter experienced white fragility, defined as discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality/injustice.

Your white privilege (inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice) allows you to complain about how she felt.

Non-Hispanic whites make up 60.7% of US population; their share of the U.S. population is expected to fall below 50% by 2045. Non-Hispanic white population in Halifax County was estimated at 59.8% in 2017.

If predictions hold steady, Halifax County will be less than 50% white by 2045, maybe sooner.

If white people will no longer be the majority in Halifax in a few years, maybe it’s time to get uncomfortable learning about what people of color in the US have been experiencing for over 200 years?? Maybe the more we learn from and about others, the more we can “love they neighbor as thyself”.


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