We’re excited to present a series of blog posts that will introduce readers to our talented authors and the books they’ve written, as well as learn about their motivations to write them and their creative and research processes.
First we have Terry Barkley, author of The Gentle Scholar - The Forgotten Story of John M. Webb and the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Mr. Barkley is an independent scholar and musician who lives in Monteagle, Tennessee.
Q. Why did you choose to write about John M. Webb, the subject of your new book The Gentle Scholar?
I’ve been fascinated with John Webb ever since I first read about him in Laurence McMillin’s The Schoolmaker, Sawney Webb’s biography. I was a teacher then and I immediately related to him as a scholar and an educator. He viewed learning not as a means to an end (a job, etc.) but as an end in itself. John Webb was a life-long learner who never thought that he knew enough. His was the life of the mind. I was also impressed by his gentleness, love for his family, students, and community, and his The Gentle Scholar-9781940127101intense humility which eventually led to his being buried by choice in an unmarked grave. John Webb should be a role model for a life well-lived.
Q. How long has it taken for you to research and write it?
My interest in the Brothers Webb, Sawney and John, goes back to 1979 when I first read a one-page tourism article about The Webb School in Southern Living magazine. Subsequent visits to the school, doing research there, and even helping to process the school’s archives all increased my interest and knowledge of the subject. While working jobs in Alabama, Virginia, and Illinois to retirement in 2012, I collected data on the Webbs and their school along the way including research trips to the sites in North Carolina and Tennessee. The actual writing of the book took place during 2012-2013 when I lived in Jacksonville, Alabama. Then, another year to finally find a publisher like the good folks at BrayBree Publishing who believed in the book.
Q. Can you tell us a few interesting discoveries you made about Dr. Webb in your research?
While I was familiar with his contributions to Webb School and to Bell Buckle, I was a little surprised by his contributions not only to Vanderbilt University and Nashville, but also to the advancement of educational standards in Tennessee and the South. I was also fascinated by how much John Webb was loved and respected by everyone including the Southern academic community.
Q. What does your book offer that no other book or publication has before?
My book offers an in-depth look at an outstanding master teacher and scholar who has been nearly forgotten in history. Much of the print about Sawney Webb and Webb School, including the national print, failed to even mention John Webb at all or only in passing. My book points out that in the success of Webb School as a prominent educational institution, Sawney Webb was only half of the equation. It took both Brothers Webb with their “opposite” talents and contributions to achieve the level of fame enjoyed by the school.
Q. What do you hope your book will accomplish regarding the memory of Dr. Webb?
I’m trying to right a wrong here. I’m trying to franchise John Webb back into The Webb School, a school that was really half his although there was never a written agreement stating this. It was a gentlemen’s agreement between brothers that Sawney and John Webb were co-principals and co-owners of the school. In the ugly split between the brothers and their families leading to the John Webb family abandoning Webb School and Bell Buckle after John’s death in 1916, John Webb was effectively written out of the picture over the decades to where he is basically a footnote in The Webb School story. When you walk the campus today, the whole place resonates with Sawney Webb–his classroom, the Junior Room, the Sawney Webb Big Room, and even some of his sayings on the walls of buildings. The yearbook is The Sawney, the book is The Schoolmaker, and it’s the Sawney Webb Memorial Highway. There is really nothing for the visitor to see on campus for John Webb. Even the old John Webb Library building never actually said that, only “Library.” I just want to set the record straight and, yes, I am a John Webb partisan but I try to be fair and even-handed in the book.
The Gentle Scholar - The Forgotten Story of John M. Webb and the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee will be released on April 24th. It can be pre-ordered from our website.