On Wednesday, February 15, Perry County native Willie Mae Crews spoke to cadets and faculty of Marion Military Institute at the MMI Chapel. Crews spanned many topics during her speaking engagement, from pride in her roots to hopes for the future.
“I will fight for you,” Crews said to cadets. “I’ll fight for you to have opportunities. I will fight for you to work together.”
As she continued, Crews revisited her youth and rearing in Perry County. She spoke on the particular dialects of the places she grew up in and her frequent returns to Marion.
“This town can become the poster child of what can be done,” Crews said of Marion. She pointed to the formation of Howard College, Judson College, and Marion Military Institute as historic examples of Marion’s legacy.
Crews also entertained cadets with a story of former students creating tracks in the woods in North Perry, causing fears of a Bigfootlike creature in Perry County. She also encouraged students to visit the local cemeteries to “see the haints” at nighttime.
Throughout her speech, Crews quoted Shakespeare and quizzed the audience on various references throughout history and literature. In particular, Crews quoted Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Crews stressed to students, “Learn to listen. Don’t arrive at an answer while someone is asking the question.”
The daughter of a sharecropper and educated at the Lincoln Normal School, Crews cited Michelangelo paintings and literature as her inspirations to see the world. Eventually, Crews would go on to be the first member of her family to graduate college. She helped develop the GED program for 1990-2000 and an English course for the College Board, going on to teach that course to educators across the Southeast.
When Crews was concluding her speech, she engaged a cadet while reading to him what Crews described as, “Something I wrote and thought about, that capsulizes what life is or has been,”:
“Done been cold, done been hot. Done been hungry. Done see droughts, done seen floods. Done seen death, done seen life. Done learned some words I can’t say here. Done, done some wrong. Done, done some right. Done been baptized in Bogue Chitto Creek, about five miles back of the road from a church called Bethel. Some preachers knew what they were doing, and some didn’t. Done been loved. Done been loved by a man. Done been wrapped up in dreams. And when some died, I created more. Done been full and done been empty. Done been here, sugar child. But I’m still going, I’m still going.”