Marvin Hogan was coaching football at Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Miss., when his father called him with an urgent message: He needed to come to Jackson. His father had made the two-and-a-half hour drive from his hometown Waynesboro to the capital city to lobby for public early-childhood education, and he was insistent that his son join him.
“He told him that if he didn’t come, he would never speak to him again,” Hogan’s wife, Beverly Wade Hogan, recalled last week with a laugh. Marvin heeded his father’s warning and joined the fight that would eventually birth Friends of Children of Mississippi, the state’s Head Start program, in 1966. Hogan’s battle for a more equitable education for all Missisippians would continue for the next 53 years, ending only with his death on Nov. 6, 2021, at age 83.
Beverly Wade Hogan, the retired president of Tougaloo College, told the Mississippi Free Press that her husband’s passion for public education had begun long before his father summoned him to Jackson. A young Hogan had watched his mother, Nina Hogan, make the long trek from Waynesboro near the Alabama border to Tougaloo College to continue her education in the summers after spending the school years teaching in Wayne County’s segregated Black public school.
Both Sides of the Desk in Segregated Mississippi
“I think that had a lot of influence in his life in terms of education,” Dr. Hogan reflected about her husband. Despite his pride in his mother’s determination to finish her college degree, Beverly Hogan acknowledges that her husband “experienced the inequities of that time.” He attended the then-segregated Riverview High School in west Waynesboro, a town that was still deeply divided along racial lines when Hogan grew up there in the 1940s and ’50s.
Hogan gained a reputation as a football standout and was recruited to play football at Tougaloo College, the same school that his mother had attended throughout his childhood, but his continuance of the familial bulldog legacy was short-lived. “Football was discontinued, and since he had won a scholarship, tuition was beyond his reach,” Beverly Hogan said. “He transferred to Coahoma and then to Rust College.”
At each school, Hogan continued his love for the sport that had paved his way to college. When he graduated, he accepted a head coaching position at Rosa Scott High School, which was at the time the all-Black school in still-segregated Madison County.
Though he had at that point been on both sides of the desk in segregated Mississippi schools, Marvin Hogan recognized that things were changing for Missisippians. Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” aimed to make early childhood education a possibility across the country, which Beverly Hogan says was met with much resistance in the Mississippi Legislature.
“That was in the 1960’s, so African Americans were still serving as farm laborers,” Hogan commented. “(The institution of Head Starts) would give people ways to move out of poverty, because it would require teachers and cooks and bus drivers. In the mind of some of the legislators, some of them were being taken off the farm. It was a change they weren’t quite ready for.”
‘Being Taken Off the Farm’
Marvin Hogan’s father and his fellow Waynesboro native Leo Turner were more than ready to witness such a change. When they came to Farish Street in Jackson to lobby for the Legislature to fund a public, pre-kindergarten program that it had previously denied at every turn, they would not take “no” for an answer, even operating Friends of Children of Mississippi for nearly 100 days without any federal or state funding.
“They weren’t thinking about the future,” Beverly Hogan said of the state’s early refusals to fund the early childhood education program. “It wasn’t a threat to anybody. When all of us can move up, all of us will benefit.”
Her husband’s hometown was among the first to reap those early benefits of early childhood education centers, as Wayne County and neighboring Greene and Clarke counties would open Head Starts not long after the formation of Friends of Children of Mississippi.
In a 2019 interview, Marvin Hogan paid homage to those local roots and the ways that he was able to improve the lives of others in his hometown. “I never did think of myself as a civil rights individual,” he said. “I’m just a country boy from Mississippi who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and families. That’s all I’ve ever done.”
Dr. Hogan echoed her husband’s dedication to Waynesboro and other similar small towns across the state. “He was excited about being able to serve that county and all those places that were so familiar to him growing up,” she remarked. “He felt that he had lived up to his father’s desires and expectations. He had many success stories in Wayne County.”
‘The Surest Route out of Poverty’
Many such success stories in Wayne County and beyond were outgrowths of the Friends of Children of Mississippi program, as Marvin Hogan kickstarted the Self-Sufficiency Empowerment and Micro-Enterprise Development project, which allowed teachers and other Head Start employees to further their education and provided microloans to small businesses in the rural, often-poor communities that were home to Head Start centers.
“That was something he was proud of, that they could break that cycle of generational poverty,” Hogan reflected. “It was a turnaround for the families there. He wasn’t looking for families to become Fortune 500 companies, but the surest route out of poverty is through employment.”
Beverly Hogan said her husband’s constant encouragement for others to pursue their goals was a resounding theme of his career. “He used his ladder to help other people ascend,” she remembered. “He did it for so many young people.”
After all, she saw her husband’s commitment to helping other people achieve their dreams up-close-and-personal, as she fretted over finishing college when he asked her to marry him 50 years ago. “This won’t stop you from completing college,” he told her, and it didn’t.
The pair married in 1971 and Beverly Wade Hogan finished college at Tougaloo two years later—the same place where her husband’s love for education had first begun. Twenty-nine years later, she would become president of Tougaloo College.