Remembering ‘Mr. Hayes’ The closing of a walking library

Students and teachers reflect on an ‘education giant’

By Gail M. Brown

Special to The Mississippi Link

JCL051620-1_20141230When Emmitt W. Hayes, Sr. departed his earthly life on the night of December 26, 2014 at the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, not only did the world lose a great gentleman, but also a human library, for he was known for his wealth of knowledge and wisdom.

“Mr. Hayes,” as he was affectionately known, was a retired Jackson, Miss. principal and educator. He is described by his longtime friend, Luther B. Buckely, as one of the top educators in the state and in the nation.

“We were schoolmates at Lanier High School,” he said. Buckley, who is also a retired principal and educator told The Mississippi Link their friendship dates back to 1939. “My fondest memories of him will be that of a true friend, loyal church member and a great family man,” Buckley said.

Educated in the Jackson Municipal Separate Public School System, Hayes entered the United States Army after high school. He served as a medical technician. After his military tour of duty, he attended and graduated from Tougaloo College in 1948.

Prior to being an educator in Jackson Public Schools, he taught “academics” to military veterans at the Magnolia Trade School. He replaced one of his Tougaloo professors who served there.

His career path led him to Jackson Public Schools in 1950 where he would later serve as assistant principal and principal.

An often quiet, but vocal man in principles, values and wisdom, he garnered the love and respect of family, friends, students, teachers and the community. The recent news of his death sparked fond reflections of him both locally and nationally.

Former student and IBM retiree Marshall Ray Evans of Atlanta described “Mr. Hayes” as “a black role model for excellence.” “He was a man who demonstrated how to command respect through respecting others; who expected the best behavior from his students while accepting nothing less; a staunch supporter of Principal Marshall’s programs for the school by being the ‘implementation guy’; and who did not appear to degrade or look down upon students or others’ position in life,” he added.

Evans’ fondest memory of Hayes was that he kept his suit coat buttoned. He said this was “a reflection of professionalism and the image of success. We knew him and respected him as ‘Mr. Hayes.’ Evans, a former Jim Hill basketball player, was drafted by the Houston Rocket, but decided, with the help of his “Maker” and earlier wisdom from “Mr. Hayes,” to accept an offer from IBM in engineering and marketing.

Others shared similar sentiments about Mr. Hayes. “A superb educator and no nonsense person,” said former student, Dr. Elayne Hayes-Anthony, chair of the Department of Mass Communication at Belhaven University. “His whole mystique will be missed in the realm of education,” she said. Hayes-Anthony said her mother worked as a counselor at Jim Hill and had a great deal of respect for him.

“As an administrator, he was phenomenally fair and impartial,” the former Miss Jim Hill of 1969 said. “I remember one time he caught me, his daughter Jackie and another friend walking on the senior high hall. We were so scared, including Jackie. I said, ‘what are you scared for; he is your dad.’ He did not make a difference in any of his students.”

Another Miss Jim Hill, Illinois resident Linda Shelby Lovelace of the Class of 1963, shared that Mr. Hayes was truly an inspiration to her. “He crowned me Miss Jim Hill and was an outstanding principal who motivate all of his students to achieve greatness,” she said.

Mr. Jim Hill of 1969 Hugh Lathem of Charlotte, N. C. echoed that “Mr. Hayes was a giant of a man.” He said he grew up with his daughter Jackie. “I recall when I was around 8th or 9th grade, I did something that was really stupid,” Lathem said. “Mr. Hayes called me into his office and talked to me for about 10 minutes as a father to a son. He made me promise to never do anything else that would cause me to have to come to his office, and I kept that promise,” he said.

Frizell Cry said, “Mr. Hayes instilled lasting values in us as students that we have carried into our adult life.” He added that he has known the family forever. “His daughter Gwen and I were Mr. and Miss Jim Hill High School, 1965-66. We will miss him!”

For Faye B. Jones, Mr. Hayes was more than a teacher. “He was like a surrogate father for me,” she said. “My mother would look to him for guidance about my educational future. He was a good principal and good disciplinarian who would talk to us firmly without raising his voice. He did not have to use corporal punishment on us.”

Former students Carey J. Chambliss Jr. and Clarence Hopkins are both amazed at how sharp Mr. Hayes’ mind was.

Cry said, “He had such a rapport with us that he knew all of us by name.”

“He didn’t forget people and was always current in thought and vivid in memory of all the students,” said Hopkins. “He spoke at our 40th reunion and called us by name.”

Resounding attributes Hayes’ students shared about his life were “firm, but fair,” and “a believer in student achievement.” “He made sure that rules and regulations were followed,” said Chambliss. “My father and he knew each other professionally and around the community.”

Speaking of community, he served his church and community in any way that he could. Historically, he also gave tribute at the funeral of James Earl Green, the Jim Hill student who was killed in the crossfire of the Jackson State College riot during the Civil Rights era, Friday May 15, 1970. At the family’s request, Hayes awarded Green’s diploma posthumously.

Former teachers and staff are also deeply saddened by the departure of Hayes. “He guided me into my teaching career,” said Minta Davis, a retired educator who served JPS for 33 years. “He was very, very supportive, and would write me little thank you notes encouraging me for doing a good job.”

Davis said it was “Mr. Hayes” who helped her to make the decision to stay with the middle school when the school was separated into Jim Hill High School and Blackburn Junior High. “In my opinion, that was very good advice. He helped to guide my career from the beginning to the end,” she said

Guidance counselor Bill Ewing said he will always remember “Mr. Hayes” as the man who hired him twice. He had worked for Jim Hill for 10 years and left to take another position. Upon learning that Ewing was not comfortable where he was, Hayes hired him back. Ewing also described Hayes as a “professional and a fine man who cared about people.” He explained that he always kept his relationship with Mr. Hayes and his family. “We love them, and I told him,” Ewing said.

Hayes also believed in family. In a prior article, he said his philosophy in raising his children was “disobedience would not be tolerated.” Hayes was at his best when he was surrounded by the love of his devoted wife, children and grandchildren – the gone, but not forgotten is a human library which positively impacted the lives of thousands.

Services for Hayes will be held Friday, Jan. 2, 2015 at 11 a.m. at the church he dearly loved – College Hill Baptist Church of Jackson.



July 4, 1922 – December 26, 2014

“To everything, there is a season…”

“A time to be born”

Emmitt W. Hayes Sr. was born to the late Dan Henry and Pauline Beatrice Hayes on July 4, 1922 in Jackson, Miss. He was the older of their two children. His sister, Annie Mae Robinson preceded him in death.

“A time to acquire”

He acquired his early and secondary education in the Jackson Municipal Separate Public School System. After high school he entered the United States Army where he served as a medical technician. After his service in the Army, he furthered his education at Tougaloo College and graduated in 1948. He earned his master of secondary education at Jackson State University (formally Jackson College).

“A time to love”

Emmitt married his life-long mate, Odie Mae Sweezer and they were inseparable for 68 glorious years. To this union six children were born: Carolyn, Paulette, Gwendolyn, Jacquelyn, Emmitt Jr. and Kelvin. He loved his family and encouraged them to pursue excellence and has always supported the hopes and dreams of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He remained a constant in all of their lives and each of them could count on him to love them and motivate them. One of his greatest pleasures was to spend time with his family and he has been a living example in each of their lives.

“A time for service”

Deacon Hayes has been a life-long member of College Hill Baptist Church where he has served as deacon, treasurer and has chaired and served on numerous committees. A devoted servant, Deacon Hayes always stood ready to assist and address the needs of the church.

Emmitt Hayes began his educational career in 1950 with the Jackson Municipal Separate Public School System where he taught both biology and French at the high school level. During his teaching career, he also served as football, basketball and track coach. In 1964, be began his administrative career as an assistant principal. He later became the first principal of Blackburn Jr. High School.

In 1969, Hayes became the principal of Jim Hill High School. This was the same year the Supreme Court ruled that school districts must end segregation “now and hereafter.” It was under Principal Hayes’ leadership that for the first time in Mississippi’s history, black and white children went to school together. Principal Hayes remained at Jim Hill until his retirement from the Jackson Public School System in 1987.

Emmitt Hayes believed in service to the community and to others. He loved his family and his church.  He was often sought out for advice or words of encouragement.

After his retirement, he remained active in the Jackson Public School System as mediator, provided service to The United Givers Fund, Goodwill Industries and many other community and civic organizations. He maintained his fitness by doing yard work, gardening and daily walks in the park until his health declined.

“A time for rest”

Emmitt Hayes’ life was filled with love and laughter. He departed his earthly life on December 26, 2014 surrounded by his family.

His memory will be cherished by his family, including his devoted wife of 68 years, Odie Mae Sweezer Hayes; daughters: Carolyn (Cleophus Jr.) Amerson, Paulette (Roy) Patton, Gwendolyn (Leon) Williams and Jacquelyn Hampton; sons: Emmitt (Wanda) Hayes Jr. and Kelvin (Therese) Hayes; special son: James Hampton Jr.; grandsons, Cleophus III (Joy) Amerson, Kendal Amerson, Jarret (Damary) Patton, James Hampton III, Emmitt Hayes III and Adrian Hayes; granddaughters: Jamila (Jamahl) Anderson, Angel Hampton and Carla Williams; great-grandsons, Kendrick Amerson, Jarret Patton II and Joven Patton; great-granddaughters: Maryana Patton, Chloe Amerson and Micah Anderson; nephew: Melvin Robinson; great nephew: Roderick Robinson (Linda); god-granddaughters, Morgan and Mya Bridgeman and a host of nephews, nieces, cousins, family and friends.