A Memorial for Mrs. Duma McCluney
by Charles T. Crow

Of 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.

I 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 habit.  

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 done!

Charles T. Crow (Charlie)
Class of 1958
Rector High School
Rector, Arkansas

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