“I know a man who helps boys like you.”
My great-grandfather, Zach Davis McWhorter, was a well-known school teacher during the last two decades of the 19th Century and the first quarter of the 20th Century. He traveled widely through Eastern and Piedmont North Carolina establishing public schools everywhere he stopped. His general strategy was to contact a town and determine whether there was an interest in public education. If so, he would move to that town, begin teaching classes and start raising money for a school building. The money was raised from local benefactors and patrons as wells as fees charged to students. But Mr. Mac, as he was universally known, never turned a student away for lack of funds. If someone had a desire to learn, then chores would be found so he or she could earn the school tuition.
While Mr. Mac was in my hometown of Mt. Olive organizing a public school, a big, raw-boned, fourteen-year-old farm boy who could neither read nor write approached him with a desire to learn both. Mr. Mac looked at this young project, whose name was Allen Andrews, and told him that while it was possible for someone his age to learn those skills, it would be hard work and would require his complete dedication. Allen assured Mr. Mac that he had dedication, but revealed that he lacked the funds to pay for schooling. Mr. Mac’s response was that if the dedication was there, the funds would be found.
With these preliminaries out of the way, Allen was enrolled with the first class in the primary department and given a list of chores that he was to accomplish every day. Because his parents’ farm was so far out of town, arrangements were made for Allen to move in with Mr. Mac and perform chores around the house as well as working at the school. Allen proved as good as his word in regard to his dedication to study. The fact that he was sitting next to students half his age bothered him not a bit, he was learning and that was all that mattered. Seeing that Allen was an exemplary student, Mr. Mac slightly eased back on the chores that Allen was assigned and replaced them with even more arduous after-hours study sessions. Allen consumed all Mr. Mac offered and wanted more. Then Mr. Mac requested that his wife, Anna Lee Nelson McWhorter, become a private tutor for Allen, as she had done with other promising students in the past.
With the combination of Mr. Mac during the day and Anna Lee during the evening, by the time he was eighteen years old, Allen had elevated himself to the point where he was at the equivalent to what today would be a high school graduate. At this point, Allen thought he was done and was grateful for what he had received. But Mr. Mac was not yet through with Allen. He told Allen that someone with his obvious intellectual gifts needed to go to college and have those gifts honed to a finer edge than what was possible in a rural backwater like Mt. Olive. Allen dismissed the idea of college as if it had been a recommendation to go to the moon. There was no money in his family for that sort of thing.
And then Mr. Mac said the words that changed Allen Andrews life forever, “I know a man who helps boys like you.” That man was Washington Irving Duke, the millionaire father of James Buchanan Duke. Washington Duke had a great interest in improving North Carolina. He personally doubled the salaries of many teachers and Methodist ministers in North Carolina in order to insure that those who were talented and gifted would not be lured away to other and more lucrative professions.
Mr. Mac was one of those whose salary had been doubled by Washington Duke. In addition to the increased salary, Washington Duke had a standing offer to all of “his” teachers. If they had a particularly bright and talented student who could not afford college, then that teacher should send a wire to Mr. Duke and in response Mr. Duke would sent two railroad tickets for the teacher and student to come to Durham for a personal interview. If the interview was favorable, Mr. Duke would pay the interviewee’s way through Trinity College, later known as Duke University.
Mr. Mac sent such a wire to Washington Duke on behalf of Allen Andrews. When two railroad tickets arrived in response, Mr. Mac realized that he had overlooked a critical matter. Allen Andrews was a poor farm boy and had no clothes that would be suitable for a meeting with a great man like Washington Irving Duke. But this problem was quickly solved by approaching a local business man in Mt. Olive who was approximately the same size as Allen and borrowing suitable clothes. Clothed in a borrowed suit, Allen accompanied Mr. Mac to Durham for the most important interview of his life.
Washington Duke was greatly impressed with Allen Andrews and had already decided to fund his education when he was told of the circumstances of Allen’s education. This cinched it as far as Mr. Duke was concerned. Allen was the very model of the type person Mr. Duke wanted to help. But Mr. Duke knew that with as fine a tool as Allen represented, he would be as badly damaged by under use as overwork. So Mr. Duke arranged for employment for Allen while he was enrolled in Trinity College.
Allen Andrews went on to graduate from Trinity College and then to become a lawyer. As befitted his modest beginning, Allen was always ready to offer a helping hand to anyone who wanted to better themselves. And for the rest of his life when he ran into someone who had a last name that he recognized as being a descendant of Zach Davis McWhorter, he would inquire as to whether you were related to Mr. Mac. Then he would say, “Sit down and let me tell you about what Mr. Mac and Miss Anna Lee did for me.”