Hand Washing to “The Alcorn Ode”

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Mrs. J. S. Himes, also known as Mrs. Charlotte Estelle Bomar Himes*, wrote “The Alcorn Ode” in March of 1918. Now, 102 years after she penned the words to the song, she would be pleased to know that, while others are washing their hands to the tune of “Happy Birthday,” “Jesus Loves Me,” or Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” members of the Alcorn family are washing their hands to the first verse of the ode as they seek to flatten the curve of the Coronavirus pandemic that has so drastically changed their lives. They are referring to this cleansing as the “20 Second Hand-Washing, the Alcorn Way.”

According to the Alcorn A. & M. Faculty Records, 1912-1921, after Mrs. Himes wrote the ode, she offered it as the college song, letting it be known that it was “designed to be set to music.” By penning these lyrics and offering them as the school’s anthem, Mrs. Himes became Alcorn’s first poet laureate, one who writes poems for an institution’s special occasions. The last two lines of the first verse read, “Oh, Alcorn dear, our mother hear / Thy name we praise, thy name we sing.” For many of us, Alcorn State is our mother, she is our alma mater, and Mrs.  Himes was literally a mother. She had three sons, the youngest of them being Chester, whom, along with his brothers, spent much of his boyhood on the Alcorn campus. Like his mother, he too was a writer. In 1954, he wrote The Third Generation, a novel in which eight chapters are set on the campus of the Mississippi State College for Negroes, a thinly disguised version of Alcorn A. & M. College. In the novel, and, also like his mother, he too wrote some words for our times: “Like the world almost, nothing [i]s permanent but change.”

Now go, Braves, and wash your hands to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.

*At the end of “The Alcorn Ode,” Mrs. Himes signed her name as Mrs. J. S. Himes because, in earlier times, it was customary for women to identify themselves according to their husband’s names. Mrs. Himes was married to Joseph Sandy Himes, an Instructor of Mechanical Arts at Alcorn A. & M. College.

J. Janice Coleman is a Professor in the Department of English, Foreign Languages and Mass Communications. She will be a contributor to The Campus Chronicle for the Spring 2020 semester.

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