Born: December 9, 1852, Wayne Coun­ty, Ken­tuc­ky.

Died: 1891, Dale­ville, Mis­sis­sip­pi.



McBeath was brought up on a farm, ac­quir­ing on­ly a com­mon school edu­ca­tion, but learn­ing his grand­est les­sons of in­struct­ion and in­spi­ra­tion, as he tells us, from the op­en book of Na­ture be­fore him, the to­wer­ing Cum­ber­land Moun­tains that shut him in, and all the min­strel­sy of the pic­tur­esque wood­land where, in boy­hood, he loved so well to me­di­tate or roam.

At the age of twen­ty-se­ven he found him­self on board the first rail­road train he ev­er saw, with $34 in his pock­et, bound for col­lege. He de­ter­mined that if he could not find a way op­en he would make one.

He sought and ob­tained work at school to help pay his way. He rent­ed a room (or one-fourth of it, ra­ther), at 12½ cents a week, and for near­ly two years lived on bak­er’s bread, mo­lass­es and wa­ter, at a cost of 35 cents a week.

At the end of three years he gra­du­at­ed with two di­plo­mas, as the val­e­dic­tor­ian of his class, and to-day is one of the most ac­comp­lished schol­ars in Am­er­ica.

He had writ­ten much, he says, but pub­lished lit­tle; and in 1888, while Pre­si­dent of the Coop­er Nor­mal Col­lege, at Dale­ville [, Mis­sis­sip­pi], he be­gan the pre­pa­ra­tion of three books for pub­li­cation, when the build­ing took fire and all his li­ter­ary pro­duct­ions, the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of near­ly twen­ty years, were burned to ash­es.

I’ll de­clare, it makes me want to cry for him and for hu­ma­ni­ty. It seems to me that I would ra­ther have had a mil­lion dol­lars burned up; for if those books of prose and po­ems, had been at all in keep­ing with what we have seen of his works, they would have won for him al­most, if not quite, the first place in Am­er­ican li­te­ra­ture, and blessed the world at long as lang­uage lives.

William David Upshaw
Earnest Willie, 1899

McBeath was the hus­band of Om­er­ee Tho­mas (mar­ried March 1890, Gaines­ville, Ala­ba­ma).

After col­lege, he took charge of the Eng­lish Ser­mon School in Cue­ro, Tex­as, where he stayed un­til elect­ed to the chair of na­tur­al sci­ence in the school at Glas­gow, Ken­tuc­ky (his for­mer al­ma ma­ter).

Four years lat­er, he was called to Wa­ter Valley, Mis­sis­sip­pi, where he was su­per­in­ten­dent of the ci­ty schools for one year. He then be­came prin­ci­pal of Coop­er Nor­mal Col­lege.




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