Speech by Founder, Cully A. Cobb
Ground-breaking for the Cobb Institute of Archaeology, Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, Mississippi
April 14, 1973
Dr. William L. Giles, president, Mississippi State University
with Mr. and Mrs. Cully A. Cobb
We are here today on the campus of this great university to break the ground for the building of the Cobb Institute of Archaeology.
When I came here as a student in February 1904, it was then the Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College. Already the solid beginnings of the comprehensive and magnificent institution we find here now had been established. As one of the nation's land grant colleges its purpose was to provide young men with a good solid education with special emphasis upon the mechanic arts and industries, and upon those sciences that relate to the soil, all plant and animal life and the season-to-season and year-to-year natural forces controlling planning. And then how to apply what they learned to the management of the state's land and other natural resources so as to preserve the productivity of the land and produce the required abundance for full living and effective citizenship. The end sought by this and its sister institutions has been achieved. The record shows that our farmers are the most productive in the world and that our people are the best fed in the world.Moreover as a national industry, agriculture here in the United States is the most efficient in the world.
When I came here as a student there were between seven and eight hundred students. Now there are ten thousand. We find the men and women who have moved through these halls and on out into life occupying positions of great leadership, and great distinction in every phase of our national life. Wherever you find them they are helping to shape the destiny of our own people and are helping to bless the whole wide world in the basic and often brilliant contributions they make to the advancement of human progress.
In 1908 I was handed my diploma in Lee Hall. In the seventy years that have intervened since I came here, indeed throughout my life, door after door has opened to me. And somehow, because of the influence of the forces that have shaped my life, especially my training here, I have had the good fortune to choose the right doors.
The world has been generous to me. So much so indeed, that I am here today with a gift that helps me keep faith with those who have believed in me and that have invested so much in me. And I have faith to believe the investment Mrs. Cobb and I are making here today will pay off as the investment made in me has paid off in the joy of living and serving that has so richly blessed our home and our lives. We believe the Cobb Institute of Archaeology will add a brilliant facet to the great university of which it is to be a part.
I have been asked many times when did all this start? When did you first become interested in archaeology? And how did you think of the establishment of the Institute? I would not try to offer a precise answer to these questions. Probably no one knows the day or the hour. You have heard it said "It is in the blood." I would offer that as a fact and as the beginning. I think the real beginning would date back some two thousand years or more. However, the conscious beginning in me as an individual came when I was a small child. This fact brings the answer much closer.
One of the great teachers that has graced the halls of this university was Dr. W. H. Magruder, Professor of English and my English teacher in my junior and senior years. On my first day as a junior in his classroom, after he had welcomed the class and had made some general remarks about what the college was here for, about student life, and what we would be doing in his classroom in the months that lay ahead, he observed that barring some calamity, we were far enough along to feel assured of our graduation on time. He then hesitated for a moment and said, "Now, young gentlemen, whether you are aware of it or not you are going to be leaders. You are going to be leaders in your sphere of life." He hesitated again for a moment and said "Learn how to pray. Class dismissed." You could have heard a pin drop. Nobody was ready to leave. And the next day after we had been seated, he gave us this to be thinking about: "Every normal human being at some time, usually rather early in life, asks himself these questions, Who am I? Where did I come from?" And a little later, "How did I get here? What do I have?" Beyond these questions he said, "There is one other question that naturally suggests itself, Where do I go from here? We will concern ourselves with the answer to that later."
In our study of the English language itself and what to do with grammar, rhetoric, English composition and how to express ourselves, Dr. Magruder said, "We will have to study the origin of languages and of the other peoples of the world -- the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Latins, and even the aborigines. That will bring us face to face with the question of Who am I? Where did I come from? How did I get here? We will already have begun to realize what we have. To know the world about us, its people especially, and to really understand the forces that gave us this institution, and that brought us to this campus, is preparation we must have if we are going to find our way in the years ahead and be fruitful and happy."
These wonderful days in Dr. Magruder's classroom helped me to find the way to this place where we stand today. Moreover they took me back to my childhood in the modest farm home of my father, a county Baptist preacher and solid American citizen, and of my understanding, compassionate mother who had a marvelous gift of impressing me with the difference between right and wrong.
My first and formative years were spent on this farm. It had its own Indian mound. Being a great mound of heavy unhewn stones, it probably antedates the days of the Indian. It had its burial ground. One day, we plowed up a skeleton and there was a mound of periwinkle shells, the remains of some great feast. This was archaeology and history. We discussed it in the one- room county school. I have axes, arrowheads, spear points and scrapers from the plenteous supply found there at that time. Our farm lay at the bottom of what sixty-five million years ago was a sea. Cretacious limestone, full of all manner of ancient seashells, is a part of the floor of this valley.
I wondered about the Indians and the arrowheads, the axes, the knives, the great rock mound, the periwinkle shells. I still do. This institute will help me find the answer. I wondered about the sea shells in the vast tonnage of loose cretaceous stones on top of and on down deep in some of the hills of the area. Dr. W. N. Logan, Professor of Geology, my teacher here, helped me get the answer to this, but also know why bold everlasting springs of clear cold water were found at the foot of the hills where these cretaceous stones abound. And so I came here with a maturing interest in geology and archaeology that in the meantime, had expanded far beyond our little farm and the creeks and rivers of Middle Tennessee.
Greatly concerned about the future of my sister and me, my mother and father, in my eleventh year moved the family to the small county town of Elkton, Tennessee, so we could have the advantage of the excellent high school there. I did not know it then, but this was the first, and a very long step, probably the longest single step, toward the place where I stand today. The principal of the school was personally attractive, a man of high intelligence and great moral strength. Above all he regarded it as his job to help each student find his way. His natural attitude invited confidence and counsel.
Perhaps the greatest shock of my life came in my eighteenth year when I suddenly realized one day that I had arrived at that point of my life when "I was on my own" and would be from that day on out. Face to face with the cold facts of life, I also realized that I had better make some plans. To make plans of value, I needed mature, wise and intensely personal guidance. Fortunately I had it in my school principal, Professor M. L. Caneer. We talked it over and his first advice was "Don't be afraid." We agreed that there wasn't anything at Elkton for me or anywhere else until I prepared myself for some definite place in life, and that my first job was to get into some good broad-based college, maybe the University of Tennessee. He said, "Your toughest job is to make a clean break with everything here at Elkton, go somewhere, get a job and save enough money to get your foot in the door of a school. At that point if you keep your health, you will have it made. And all this will have to be just between us." And so it was. My mother and father lived to see the move to Elkton pay off.
When we plowed up the Indian skeleton, I not only wondered who he was, I wondered who I was. With this and the foregoing, you can more fully understand why Dr. Magruder's questions stand out as one of the most exciting moments of my life — and some of the reasons and forces that have combined to bring me back to these grounds today.
In the meantime, I have found out very definitely who I am. I now know who I am. I have found out where I came from. I know where I came from. What I know carries me back a couple of thousand years and more, and if you read history at all, especially the Bible, you know the route I came and how I got here. And I know that the heritage that I have the glorious privilege of claiming is rich beyond any man's ability to measure it. Out of it and because of it, I can claim a life that has been as full as my capabilities would permit. I alone know the rewards that are mine — the breadth of understanding, the depth of satisfaction that I have gotten out of life, and the privilege of witnessing the progress of our prople. Nothing could be more gratifying than to have had the privilege of watching this university grow and mature into the great instrument of usefulness it is today. Out of the seeds of its plantings, we see here today the beginnings of the four walls of this Institute and the enormously significant leadership they will house. This leadership will help the men and women who come here to get answers to those vital questions Dr. Magruder asked, "Who am I? Where did I come from? How did I get here? And What do I have." The answers they will get will lay a deep and solid and enriching foundation of understanding of themselves and of the world of which they are a part. Above all what they will get as they look back into the ancient past and forward to the road that lies ahead, will help them find the answer to great usefulness, great living, and to the question, "Where do we go from here."
In all humility may I venture to say that this day of ground-breaking is another day of door opening, when I am witnessing with my own eyes a dream come true and the harvest of seed that have been planted down through the generations. Would it be all right to say "Some fell upon good ground?" I must add-"it was in the blood." And the first good ground was provided long ago. To me as an individual it was found first in a Christian home on a farm in Tennessee, then in a little country church. I found it in the one-room country school at Conway. I found it in a high school. I found it here, and I found it in every step of the way down through the years of my business and professional life.
And in joyous acknowledgment let me emphasize that this is in every way a joint enterprize in which Mrs. Cobb and I share and share alike. We have worked and saved and prayed and planned together for this day, a day of fulfillment. Nothing less than this deep sense of devotion, gratitude, and understanding of the mission to be served could have brought it to pass. And we have faith to believe that much of the seed that will be planted will "fall upon good ground."
With the Psalmist I would reverently claim, "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."