DeltaYou: Couple’s Impact Still Resonates

By Kimberely Blackburn
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO – Many Northeast Arkansans feel the influence of two educators long after they retired.

The Stricklands

Herman and Maxine Strickland display “The Circle.” A-State dedicated apartment buildings to its first four black facility members, known as “The Circle.” Photo by Kimberely Blackburn

Herman Strickland Sr. taught elementary school in Blytheville and moved up to principal. He considered teaching at Arkansas State University to allow his wife to return to school.

The university made the decision easier with a simple addition to the offer: a house. Until then, the Stricklands lived in an apartment. The house and the low tuition for his wife helped prompt the move.

As A-State’s second black faculty member, Strickland said his family did not face many racial issues. History professor C. Calvin Smith faced difficulties when he came the year before. But Strickland said he believed the university worked out all the issues before he arrived. Showing his love of sports, he compared his and Smith’s journeys to those of baseball players.

“Jackie Robinson had all the problems, but they worked them out before (Roy) Campanella and Don Newcombe came,” Strickland said. “It was sort of that way before me, I think.”

Maxcine Strickland planned to study social work, but said the university did not offer that discipline at the time. She said she believed divine intervention caused her to choose elementary education. The decision, she said, remains one of the best she made in her life.

Herman served A-State as associate professor of teacher education and dean of University College. He said he never thought he would stay in higher education. After Maxcine earned her degree, they planned to return to Blytheville. He said he thought he would return to primary education.

But his students made him change his mind. Herman fell in love with higher education and decided to stay. He worked to mentor students, both in the department and in his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha.

Their Impact

Rickey Greer, principal of Jonesboro’s Math & Science Magnet School, said Herman and Maxcine greatly impacted his life. He still strives to pattern his life after them.

Greer learned professionalism from Herman. Greer said Herman always looks at everyone as if they had potential. Greer said Herman’s positivity struck him as well. Although Greer knew the Stricklands faced obstacles due to their race, Herman did not dwell on them.

Greer said he does not know many men like Herman.

Maxcine taught first grade in Jonesboro. Retiring after 26 years, she said her “children” still visit, bringing “grandchildren” along.

In her first year of teaching, Maxcine said she thought every child would pass — she would make sure if it. Maxcine said a wise mentor told her she could not make them learn. Instead, she could provide the information to the children and encourage them.

Although most turned out fine, the students who struggled broke her heart. She said she still wonders what she could have done differently.

Greer worked as a student teacher under Maxcine. He said her dedication to her job and her children greatly affected him.

“She felt like or treated every kid as if they were queens and kings, or they were the best, or they were (gifted and talented) kids,” Greer said. “No matter what level they were on, she treated them that way.”

Maxcine tried to treat every child the same. She set a high bar and encouraged each child to reach it. She told them to never underestimate their abilities. She said if she expected it, they did it.

The Circle

Although the Stricklands moved four houses down from the Smiths in the neighborhood now known as “The Circle,” both families left Jonesboro every weekend. They started going to each other’s homes with the university’s hire of Wilbert Gaines, emeritus associate professor of physical education. The Circle became a family following the arrival of Mossie Richmond, who became A-State interim president, vice president for student affairs and dean of University College.

Maxcine said she never expected what came from The Circle. She said they came to Jonesboro to do a job, but instead, gained nephews, nieces and friends they will love until the day they die.

Herman said he never thought A-State would dedicate buildings to them. The thought overwhelms him. He said he hopes it inspires black students to know if they work hard and find mentors, they can do anything.

Greer said he wished his students could understand how the Stricklands affected their lives. He said he hopes his students spread the positive impact forward.

Herman said he still looks ahead.

“I hope in the future it won’t make any difference about race. I’ll see you as a sister and you’ll tell me about your parent. I’ll feel your parent did a really great job with you and I’ll know you want to leave a legacy for your parent,” he said. “My parent did a great job with me, didn’t have many means, and I want to be a legacy for them.”

(Featured photo courtesy of A-State Media Relations)