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Alice Hines

Professor’s life focused on education, service

By Tammy Keith

This article was published February 26, 2012 at 2:17 a.m.

— Alice Hines was just a poor girl from the small town of Menifee when she headed to Spelman College in Atlanta, but she was prepared academically.

What she wasn’t ready for was to be spit on and hated because she was black.

“Coming out of Menifee, a predominately black place, I’d never had anyone spit at me; I’d never had anyone act as if I didn’t exist,” she said, sitting in her office at Hendrix College.

Although her parents subscribed to both the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat, before the newspaper war joined the two, her reality was different than what they read about race relations.

“I should have known,” Hines, 65, said, “but I think the reality of it, that’s what the sit-ins and demonstrations meant to me - somebody hates me and they don’t even know me.”

The C. Louis and Charlotte Cabe Distinguished Professor of English has taught at Hendrix for 30 years and garners respect from students and fellow educators.

Her long tenure at the college surprises people, she said.

Hines, who still lives in Menifee, directs the college writing center, teaches English composition and 17th- and 18th-century British literature.

She grew up in Menifee - now population 302 - the daughter of Willie Hines, a highway construction worker who helped build U.S. 64, and Catherine, a housekeeper.

It was expected that Hines and her two brothers would attend college.

Hines’ sixth-grade teacher in Menifee, Alpha Jo Willie English, who had gone to Spelman College, inspired her.

“She insisted on you speaking well, good posture, and she liked music,” Hines said.

“I come from the era where the elementary school held an operetta every year.”

Hines graduated from Menifee’s high school, which was then called the Conway County Training School.

“It was commiserate with the fact black folk weren’t educated; they were trained,” she said.

The truth is, Hines said, that she received an excellent education.

“My classmates and I were beneficiaries of highly motivated, well-educated black teachers who saw a brighter future for us and worked to prepare us for it,” she said.

Hines applied to Spelman and received a list of 200 books and plays that, although not required, it was noted that “the successful student will have read these,” she said.

“My poor little parents, bless their sweet little hearts, they would come down here (Conway) and order these books,” she said.

One was The Canterbury Tales.

“It’s in Middle English,” she said, laughing. “I read it. I’m not sure I understood it.”

She had checked off 150 of the books and plays on Spelman’s list by the time she got to Atlanta.

Hines, who worked in a real estate office and learned to type while she was in high school, thought she wanted to be “a good secretary.” When she got to campus and looked in the course catalog, lo and behold, there wasn’t a “secretarial science” major.

“Then it revolved around what I liked to do,” she said.

She decided on history, because she liked answers to questions, and English, because she liked to read.

The faculty was integrated, with several teachers from the North.

Her history professor admonished the class to get involved in the civil-rights movement.

“He said, ‘You’re sitting here studying history, and history is being made outside these walls!’”

That’s when Hines ventured out and participated in sit-ins - becoming part of history.

Her first job out of college was in the public-correspondence division of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.

“My little job was to respond to letters sent to the State Department,” she said. “I learned a lot of things about government, but I learned a lot of things about myself. I’m not really a desk person.”

Hines decided to get a Master of Arts degree in English, and she applied to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1968 while living in Washington.

She never thought to mention she was black, and the university didn’t know. Until she got there.

She saw it on the face of the man who had helped her with living arrangements.

“He realized this wasn’t exactly going to work,” she said. “It’s hilarious to me now.”

He had to find her another place to stay, and she lived with a black woman, Mrs. Utley, who took in roomers.

“I loved her,” Hines said.

After one of her first classes at Fayetteville, the teacher asked her, “Where did you go to school?”

Spelman had prepared her well, Hines said.

Hines has an emphasis in 17th- and 18th-century British literature - another thing about her that surprises some people.

“I had phenomenal teachers at Fayetteville, and Dr. Duncan Eaves was one of my professors. He brought that literature and made it live. I was just fascinated by it,” she said.

Hines also earned a doctorate in 18th-century British literature, with a subfield in rhetoric and composition, from Texas Woman’s University.

She taught English and fine arts at Langston University in Oklahoma - fine arts as a last minute fill-in for a teacher who was pregnant, and for which Hines felt unprepared.

“I stayed one class ahead of my students,” she said.

Hines had been familiar with Hendrix for years before she was hired there in 1981. She had previously taught at the first Arkansas Governor’s School held at Hendrix and for 15 or 20 years afterward, she said.

The chairman of the Hendrix English department encouraged Hines to apply for the position being vacated by a woman who was retiring.

“It’s remarkable how it’s grown,” she said of the college. “I know we didn’t have all the sports, the buildings we have now,” or handicapped-accessible facilities.

“We have changed with the times,” she said. “The motto here is ‘Unto the Whole Person.’ Every effort has been made, from my vantage point, to do that.”

Hines doesn’t think the students have changed all that much.

“Students are still inquisitive,” she said. “They’re still a pleasure to be around, and I say that because I believe it. They’re a lot of fun, and you learn from them.”

Although Hines lives in Conway County, she has been involved in a variety of Faulkner County organizations through the years. Last week, she was working to finalize the major fundraiser for the Faulkner County Single Parent Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships for students at Hendrix, the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton. Hines is interim president of the Scholarship Fund’s board.

“I don’t know what we’d do without her,” board member Steve Fulmer of Conway said.

Hines has been on the organization’s board for several years.

“What I really appreciate about it … is instead of complaining about people who aren’t well-educated, why don’t we do something to help them?”

She also serves on the boards of the Faulkner County Day School and the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas and is a member of the Conway Morning Rotary Club.

Before she joins an organization, Hines said, she asks herself if she has anything to contribute.

“I can talk; I can write; I can think,” she said. “If Spelman did nothing else, it convinced us we could think - we weren’t just vessels moving around.”

Talk about walking the walk, Hines believes so strongly in helping others that she served as interim mayor of Menifee, her hometown, for a year.

“I did not want to be interim mayor of Menifee, but I was,” she said, shaking her head.

When a former Menifee mayor resigned abruptly in 2010, the City Council nominated Hines, and before she could get from work at Hendrix to the meeting in Menifee, it was practically a done deal, she said.

“I thought, ‘I have to help.’ I didn’t want to. Thanks to the town clerk, the water superintendent and the citizens of Menifee, we were able to make it work,” she said.

“I think - no, I believe - that we should serve. What we’re able to do we should do, if it helps someone else who needs help, or if it contributes in some way to the general well-being of a place, a community.”

She’s also involved in the Menifee Community Development Center, a nonprofit organization that is raising money to restore the old Menifee school gymnasium that her grandfather, John Hines, helped build in 1938 as a WPA project.

Hines said “it’s a very storied building,” and she has lots of memories of speakers and entertainment she’s seen inside those walls, from gospel singer Clara Ward to the Harlem Globetrotters.

She said that’s why she takes advantage of so many events held at Hendrix - and she sometimes requires students to go listen to speakers.

Robert Entzminger, executive vice president and provost of Hendrix, said Hines’ contributions to the college are “so pervasive and broad in scope” it’s hard to narrow them down.

“Alice is one of the faculty leaders - she’s always a strong voice for quality education, which to her means doing the right thing for our students, first,” he said. “I know her colleagues have the utmost respect for her, as I do.

“I know among the students, she is genuinely legendary - not just alums from way back, but even the current students.”

Duncan Keegan, 22, a Hendrix student from Signal Mountain, Tenn., said he had Hines as a teacher for masterpieces of world literature and literary analysis.

“I think she’s great - she’s awesome,” Keegan said. “She’s incredibly knowledgeable.”

About her subject matter?

“She knows everything, then she’ll tell you a little bit of her history, and you say, ‘Are you kidding?’” he said.

The anonymous Rate Your Professor website has glowing comments for Hines, using words to describe her such as “brilliant” “caring,” “tough” and “hilarious.”

One student simply wrote, “Leaving Hendrix without the Hines experience is a total waste.”

Entzminger, also a professor of English, said he recently was talking with a colleague in another department, and she told him about a writing assignment

she gave her students.

“When she asked them, ‘What’s your opinion?’ the students said, ‘Well, Dr. Hines says this.’ Therefore, case closed,” Entzminger said, laughing. He also described Hines as “absolutely somebody who will not flinch if she thinks something needs to be said, no matter whose skin she thinks it’s going to get under.” That could be because Hines is a woman confident and comfortable in her own skin.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

up close

getting to know Alice Hines

Birth date: Aug. 30

Family: One son, Christopher William Forshee, 41, of Conway

Favorite book as a child: Believe it or not, it was Moby Dick.

Favorite book now: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I think it’s a well-told narrative, but it also comments on medical ethics.

Hobbies: I like cooking. I enjoy experimenting with new recipes.

If I weren’t an English teacher, I’d be: An archeologist.

As I look to my retirement, I think that’s what I’m going to do.

River Valley Ozark, Pages 136 on 02/26/2012

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