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harry harrison kroll: an essay (1986) Editors’ Note: In this essay, West notes the critical role of Harry Kroll, an English professor at Lincoln Memorial University, in the shaping of his own literary work and vision. Kroll was the author of over twenty novels and nonfiction books, including the memoir I Was a Sharecropper. This essay, one of West’s last publications , appeared in 1986 in Appalachian Mountain Books, volume 2, number 2, a combination of catalog and review of regional literature published in the 1980s by George Brosi, from Berea, Kentucky. He was a southern sharecropper. His parents were sharecroppers. They might have been the Jeeters in Caldwell’s Tobacco Road.13 He never got a high school diploma. He wrote novels about sharecroppers. Unlike Caldwell’s Jeeters, Kroll’s characters had dignity,self-respect.He was one of the three best teachers I ever had. One of the other two was Dr. Alva Taylor who later edited Mountain Life and Work magazine. The other was a shy little 17-year-old girl who taught the one room school where I finished sixth grade. Her name was Nina Reece. We called her “Miss Ninnie.” But I’ll write of them later. This is about Harry Harrison Kroll. He also taught James Still and Jesse Stuart.14 We were students together at L.M.U. Sharecropper, public school teacher, professor, novelist, warm human being , Harry Harrison Kroll was all of them. The first time I met him stands out in memory. It was on the Lincoln Memorial University campus. I had been expelled from a Georgia mountain missionary school that Henry Ford put millions into.15 Opposing the showing of the movie Birth of a Nation, which I felt glorified the Ku Klux Klan, made me “out of harmony” with the administration . For several months I worked for Southern Bell Telephone Company climbing poles and stringing wires in the Georgia mountains. I wanted to go to college and hoped to get in by taking an entrance exam. I hoped to work to pay expenses. Money earned stringing wires I had sent to my Dad to pay his fertilizer and food bills. 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 18 selected prose 19 It had taken two days to hitch-hike from Georgia. I slept in the Cumberland Gap Railroad tunnel the night before going on campus.16 My blue bib overalls and shirt were in need of laundering.My six feet three inches so dressed made me look more like a hobo than a prospective student. But I was going to try. The first person I saw was a lanky character ambling across campus in a typical sharecropper stride. I thought it might be a janitor. No doubt he noted my disheveled appearance and lost look. He spoke to me in a friendly tone: “You looking for something, young man?” “Yeah, the office.” “I’ll show you.” He turned and reversed his direction. “Can a feller work to pay for his schoolin’ here?” I asked. “How much you got to start on?” he asked. “Total of $1.65. I counted it after the last sandwich this morning.” “That’s slim pickins. Depends on how willing, how tough, and how hungry you are.” “I’m right willin’ and maybe pretty tough and always hungry. Worked last few months for Southern Bell stringing wires.” “If you worked why didn’t you have some wages?” “I did, but my Dad is a sharecropper and needed money for his fertilizer and food. I sent it to him.” “Your folks are sharecroppers? I know what being a sharecropper’s like,” he said, sympathetically. “I’ll be talking with you.” He turned and walked off in the direction he was going when he turned to show me the office. A student bystander asked: “Do you know what that man is?” I didn’t. “That’s Harry Harrison Kroll. Head of English. Teaches literature and writing . He writes books.” “Writes books! I thought he might be a janitor.” “An honest janitor rates as high with Kroll as the university president.If you stay around here you’ll find out,” the student said. And I did find out. I know of no other writer about southern people who surpasses him in understanding and sympathy for the poor. I came to know Harry Kroll quite well.We became close friends.He was fired at the University the same year I was...


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