Mr. McWhorter meets his match

as told to John Cox by Eva Jurney Wilkins

          Zach Davis McWhorter was the Johnny Appleseed of public education in Eastern and Piedmont North Carolina. Everywhere he went he organized the community, solicited patrons for education, and built a school. One of the places in which Z. D. McWhorter planted the seed of education was Mt. Olive, NC. His skill as a teacher and advocate for education was known to all and his reputation as a disciplinarian was equally widespread.

          In Mt. Olive, there was a woman whose dedication to education and the church was every bit the equal of Mr. McWhorter’s. Her name was Belle Jurney and she was affectionately known to all as “Mom” Belle. Mrs. Jurney was the wife of a Methodist minister and built her home on what was to later become Jurney Street in Mt. Olive. Footnote

Some years later, Z. D. McWhorter built his home on that street. In addition to his home, Mr. McWhorter also led the effort to build a school in Mt. Olive. This building, located at the corner of Main Street and Breazeale Avenue, served as a public school until 1953, when a new elementary school was built. However, its days as an educational center were not over, it was the first home of Mt. Olive College and served that college well for many years until it was demolished in the 1980's.

          But when built, this old school building served all grades. Among the first students to enroll in Mr. McWhorter’s school were Nathanial (Nat) and Braxton (Brat) Craven Jurney. These two boys, while bright, were just as rambunctious as any young boys their age. Mom Belle well knew that sometimes discipline was needed to keep young boys’ attention focused on the task at hand. She knew of and approved the discipline that Mr. McWhorter had occasionally applied to Nat and Brant.

          But Mom Belle also knew that discipline was not needed with a child that was as kind, attentive, and eager to please as was her daughter, Eva Jurney. While Mom Belle knew what a wonderful child Eva was, she wasn’t sure that Mr. McWhorter would give Eva enough time to prove she didn’t need discipline to remain attentive while in school. So, Mom Belle had to figure out some way of convincing Mr. McWhorter to give Eva a chance to demonstrate her abilities and character. After much thought, Mom Belle, a gentle soul who spent a lifetime toiling in the Lord’s Vineyard, hit upon a solution that was both brilliantly direct and brutally effective. She told Mr. McWhorter,

“If you lay a hand on Eva,

then you had better prepare to meet your maker.”