February 25, 2009 Edition

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Tompkins shares personal history

Ethel Tompkins (center) visits with Walnut Ridge students Dylane Brown (left) and David Keeling. She speaks annually to Walnut Ridge sixth grade students of Linda Pierce, social studies teacher, in cooperation with Debbie Archer, librarian.

John Bland

In recognition of Black History Month, Ethel Tompkins of Hoxie speaks annually to sixth grade students at Walnut Ridge School. Tompkins, who is a member of the Lawrence County Library staff, is also a historian and a member of the Hoxie 21, the first class of African-American students to graduate from Hoxie High School.

Each year, Tompkins spends a day in the middle level library, speaking to the students of social studies teacher Linda Pierce, in cooperation with Debbie Archer, librarian. Pierce and the Walnut Ridge sixth grade class presented Tompkins with a certificate "for dedication to education and leadership in the Walnut Ridge community."

Tompkins said she has encountered prejudices for being both black and for being female.

The main purpose of Black History Month and Women's History Month is to highlight the contributions that both groups have made through history, she said.

"I hope in several years we will not have to have Black History Month and that history teaches all history and is not slanted toward race," Tompkins told the students.

"There are black people who have made great contributions to this world," she said. "This is 2009, but the stereotype is still there ..."

"The next generation needs to make sure that all events (regardless of race) are included in history books," she said. "We just need to remember to judge people for who they are and what they have done. Do not stereotype or judge people based on the color of their skin," she added.

After graduating from Hoxie High School in 1961, Tompkins received a partial scholarship to attend a junior college in Little Rock. She then joined the Navy, completed her college degree at San Diego State in computer science and continued to work for a number of years in California.

She then returned to Hoxie to care for her aging parents, who have since died.

Tompkins said she and other blacks were unable to go on the high school senior trip in 1961, because the hotels were not integrated at the time. However, that has not kept her from traveling since. Besides her time in the Navy, some of her travels have two cruises, three weeks in Spain and four weeks in Greece.

One bit of advice she gave the students is to always make an extra effort to be nice to people in the service industry. People performing services, such as waiting tables or cleaning hotel rooms, are often intelligent people, too, Tompkins said. By being considerate and respectful of people in the service industry, Tompkins has found that they return the kindness.

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