Silas E. Craft Sr. worked in the coal mines of West Virginia to pay his way through college. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps to pursue his dream of being a fighter pilot during World War II. But when the would-be Tuskegee airman injured his back during training exercises in Alabama, he turned to a teaching career.
Craft came to Howard County in 1944 as principal of the segregated Cooksville High School. In 1949, he helped open the bigger Harriet Tubman High School for blacks. As Tubman's principal and president of the Howard branch of the NAACP, he was strict with his students and forceful with white officials.
"He didn't care whether you were black, blue, green or grizzly," said his widow, Dorothye Craft. "Whatever he had to say to you, he told you exactly how he felt."
She laughed softly as a long-ago incident came to mind. In spring 1949, the new Harriet Tubman High was the graduation site for the last class of Cooksville High. Howard's white school superintendent attended, and he went up to Craft afterward and gave him a hearty clap on the back.
"He said to Silas, 'Boy, you really did a good job.' And those were just the wrong words to say to Silas. The salutation was wrong," Craft recounted. "He never raised his voice, he never changed the expression on his face, but he told him he would appreciate being respected for who he was. He was a man. He would like for them to respect his adulthood. He told them the things he had done.
"People could not hear what he was saying, but they could tell that something was going on," she said. "I think if [the superintendent] could have gone through the ground, he would have gone through. He was beet red, and he was mumbling and trying to get himself together, and Silas just kept right on letting him have it."
-- SUSAN DEFORD