Millen Ellis Papers, 1962-2005
| Manuscripts Gifts 2006 | Front Page 2006 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
Two and a half linear feet, 1962-2005, constitute the South Caroliniana Library's inaugural holdings relating to Erskine College and Florida State University alumnus Millen Ellis, who for nearly forty years taught high school English at Beaufort High School and Dixie High School in Due West, South Carolina. Ellis was very active in the Anderson Literary Society and won several poetry awards. His papers consist largely of correspondence with students, authors, poets, artists, and others from an interesting range of professions. | Manuscripts Gifts 2006 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
An exceptionally caring and engaged teacher, Ellis used art and music to create a desire for learning in his students. Some of his students wrote their former teacher for decades, their letters containing a strong current of gratitude and affection for a rare individual who strongly influenced their lives.
Ellis's most famous student was writer Pat Conroy. Veteran archivist, historian, and author Alexia Helsley, also a former student of Millen Ellis, writes of Conroy's admiration for their former teacher in a letter of 10 April 1997, "I gave an in-service on Friday for Beaufort County librarians. Julie [Zachowski] invited me to spend Thursday night with her - and then arranged a dinner party - Lynda Kirkland, Gene Norris, and Pat Conroy. It is impossible for that group to gather without at least invoking your spirit. As Pat put it, you are a ‘wonderful teacher.'"
In February 1983, Pat Conroy, as former class president, writes the graduates of the Class of 1963 regarding their twenty-year reunion, "Now, I realize that getting together with all the kids who caused you grief in high school may fill you with trepidation; but, on the other hand, it might be nice to face each other as adults for the first time. I met a writer recently named Ralph Keyes who said to me, ‘I'm not going to like you, Conroy. I've never liked anyone who looked like they might have played football in high school. Nor have I ever liked a cheerleader. You look like a cheerleader who played football.' Ralph had written a book called Is There Life After High School? It was Ralph's considered opinion that there was not. It is my hope that Ralph is completely wrong. We need to see each other, talk all night, reflect happily and sadly, play records from our golden year of 1963, and note the passage of time."
There are a few documents in the collection concerning high school activities which reflect the changing social environment of the 1960s. Beaufort High School's newspaper, The Tidal Wave (2 April 1962), recounts the annual senior trip, depicting it as an amusing military foray. "Twenty-six days, eleven hours, and thirty five minutes ago the almighty SENIOR class embarked on the first successful invasion of the North by a Southern force. A slight resistance was met at Green Pond in the form of a '57 Ford which tried to infiltrate our lines but this attempt was quickly annihilated."
A letter written by Millen Ellis, ca. 1965, describes a tense school year as Beaufort High School teachers rode the buses to prevent potential violence between newly integrated students, "There were 27 Negroes on my bus and I had no incidents. Seven white women ganged up on Gene (Norris) because their children had to stand. Actually there were seats; they just didn't want to sit with the Negroes. My Negro children were cleaner and dressed better than the white children.... One white mother told my driver and me she would beat her children half to death if they touched a Negro but I noticed on Thursday her children were telling the Negro girls goodbye."
Among the primary correspondents in the collection is Gene Norris, who also taught English at Beaufort High School. Norris was a mentor to Pat Conroy and model for the fictional character Ogden Loring in The Great Santini. An early supporter of civil rights, Norris befriended the first black student to enter Beaufort High School in 1965. He included this young man in many group activities, helping to break the color barrier in several Beaufort institutions.
Other major correspondents include Harry Bayne, professor of English at Brewton-Parker College and a noted authority on Henry Bellamann; Bruce Gandy, a former student who joined the Marines and served as Chief of Staff USMC Forces South and as one of the main commanders during the Kosovo exercise; Ruth Ilg, artist and poet, currently residing in Asheville, North Carolina, and Lake Constance, Germany; and poet Tharin Williamson, whose letters enclose original poems.
Other correspondents include authors John S. Bayne, Pat Grice, Alexia Jones Helsley, Jean Brabham McKinney, Francis Mims, and Valerie Sayers, architect Evan Mann, educator James Wiggins, musicologist Brooks Kuykendall, artist Daisy Youngblood, and longtime director of Beaufort County library services Julie Zachowski.