TESTAMENT TO THE LEGACY
Barbara Miller Pearl, an accomplished educator, and granddaughter of Mabel’s sister, Hillary, elaborated on her great-aunt
repaid in numerous ways. As a young girl I spent the summers with my aunt in Weston. Her inspiration and guidance lead to my
own career as an educator. I raised my children with the same ideals she passed on to me. I sent them to private schools,
taught them love and tolerance and helped nurture their professional careers.” She said.
Former students, Mary Kelly Kendall and Josephine Kelly Jackson, now both in their late 70's, recall fond memories of their first
teacher. “Ms. Bell’s philosophy left a profound influence on our entire family.” said Mary Kendall. “She taught both of our parents,
my brothers, sister and me. She encouraged us to love ourselves and take pride in our achievements, large or small. When I
was very young, I had an interest in music. She made arrangements with a white teacher in Weston to give me lessons. I was
the only black student and the sessions were given in secret meetings.” Ms. Kendall, still an accomplished pianist, went on to
explain the joy that music has brought to her life. She still plays for churches and various programs.
Josephine Kelly Jackson now has two grandsons who are successful school teachers. “Ms. Bell left us a legacy that is still
being handed down through our family.” She said. “I taught my son love, honesty, integrity and the importance of education. He
in turn shared these same values with his own children.”
In 2002, at a reunion for former black students in Weston, Anthony Wesley Payton, reflected on his early childhood. “ My great-
great-grandparents were slaves freed in Weston.” Said Payton. “ As a young boy, running barefoot around this town, I never
dreamed I would be where I am today.” Payton is now an aeronautical engineer and designed the wings for the NASA space
shuttles. “Ms. Bell taught my parents and they taught me to believe that we were all capable of greatness. Remembering the
wisdom in that statement made a definite difference in my life.” He said.
Perhaps, one of Ms. Bell’s finest achievements came with a young man named Raymond Dydell. Dydell was born in Weston on
June 26, 1939. Following the death of his mother, his father remarried and moved to Olathe, Kansas. Unhappy with his new
surroundings, the young boy ran away and went to Ms. Bell for help. With the consent of his father, he continued to live with the
Bells’ in Weston. After school, and on the weekends, he worked at the Rumple Hardware Store to help with his expenses.
Raymond graduated from the eight grades in Weston. Ms. Bell, then sent him to Lincoln High School in Kansas City, where he
graduated at the top of his class. With additional help from the Rumple family, he later received a degree in business from a
local college. As a community leader, Raymond Dydell founded the Weston Youth Sports Association, served as President of
the Weston Jaycees and was once the head of the town’s volunteer fire department.
Dydell lived in Weston until his untimely death on February 20, 1971 at the age of 32. He died while fighting a fire in a local
home. A plaque honoring his memory was erected in front of the Weston Fire Department. Each year the Jaycees continue to
honor a Weston resident with the “Raymond Dydell Community Service Award.” Dydell was one of the last of Weston’s black
In this small, southern bred town, slavery and cruelty once prevailed on the black man as an accepted way of life. After the turn of
the century, while some prejudice and segregation still remained, a bond between Weston’s black and white cultures began to
form. Mabel Bell helped to strengthen those bonds by teaching her students, as well as her friends, to rise above old
sentiments and join together as neighbors. She encouraged her students to take pride in their African past, but, at the same
time ... move forward to build productive lives as Americans.
Weston old-timers recall, “Ms. Bell extended her open, caring heart to those in need without color boundaries, everyone who
knew her, black or white, was affected by her kindness and encouragement.”
Following the consolidation of schools in 1952, after 38 years of teaching, Ms. Bell retired. She remained in Weston until illness
forced her to live with family members in Kansas City, Missouri. She lived in the Parade Park neighborhood until her death in
Sandra Lewis Miller is a native of Weston and the author of “Memories of Weston, Vols. I & II
copyright 2006 Sandra L Miller
Barbara Miller Pearl
MABEL EMERY BELL . . . “DEFINING GREATNESS”
By Sandra Lewis Miller
When defining the word “greatness” in relationship to women we have known, or read about in the
history books, most of us are reminded of our nation’s early suffragettes who brought about women’s
rights or those who revolutionized the world with life-changing inventions and theories. Some might
consider the work of a young, black school teacher unworthy of the superior eminence to define
The achievements of Mabel Emery Bell, like so many others, symbolize the determination of all early
black educators. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “building a legacy, one student at a time.” Decades
earlier, Mabel Bell’s vision for the future was very much the same. She believed that without education,
the fate of the black people, would forever, remain trapped and suffocated in old traditions.
Ms. Bell’s successes as an educator have had no formal recognition outside of her family and the small
community of Weston, Missouri, where she taught. However, her inspirations, handed down through the
decades by former students to their descendants, still remains her “legacy of greatness” to hundreds of
young black men and women today. While some of these people have gained high degrees of wealth,
for the most part, they joined the majority of America’s population as hardworking, productive citizens ...
those who make up the strong, sturdy fibers that hold our country together.
Mabel Mae Emery was born near Sedalia, Missouri, August 19, 1889. After completing the lower grades
at a small country school, her parents were left with the problem of continuing her education. They were
land owners and provided a comfortable living from their farmstead in southeast Missouri, however,
extra funding to provide the child with a higher education was out of their reach. Her sister, Hillary
Emery, willing to put her own education on hold, volunteered to hire herself out as a laundress’ to help
with the expenses.
Mabel later enrolled at the Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri to study teaching. Worthy of her
sister’s sacrifice, on June 11, 1909, Mabel graduated with honors and received a Bachelor of Science
Unfortunately, in the early 1900's, holding a degree did not mean employment was readily available for a
young black woman. Schools for black children were few and far between. For the next five years Mabel
applied for several positions but was able to secure only a few temporary assignments.
A position at the Mary Bethune School for Black Children in Weston, Missouri was an
opportunity. The small town, located on the Missouri river, just north of Kansas City, at
that time had a population of approximately one thousand people. Descended from
slaves freed in Weston, nearly 45% of that number were black. The Bethune School had
fallen into disrepair and had been without a teacher for some time. As the black
children were not allowed to attend the white school they had been left with no means
Mabel was a petite, plump woman, whose outgoing personality, bright amber eyes and
infectious smile exuded a natural sparkle of intelligence that quickly drew attention. The
Weston School Board, made up of an all-white panel, listened without interruption as
she presented her academic background and explained her work ethics and theories
on teaching. Impressed with her energy and promise of dedication, they unanimously
agreed to hire her to teach grades one through eight at $45.00 per month.
The one-room, school house at 806 Thomas Street was indeed in need of repair and
presented more than a few challenges. Yet, undaunted and determined to achieve her
goals, she worked throughout the summer months restoring the old building to order.
Rewarded for her labor, on opening day, Ms. Bell was greeted in the school yard by a
large crowd of smiling, young students and their parents.
Mabel settled into the township and married Weston native, George Bell. Mabel and
George never had any children of their own. However, Ms. Bell’s diary, kept from 1933 to
1938, reveals a constant flow of happy young people who frequented their home.
A former student reflects on those visits. “ Ms. Bell was more than a teacher. She was
also a friend and mentor. She often invited the children to her home for various play
time activities. At the same time, she was also teaching us personal dignity and social
The diary also points to the extended care of her students. After graduating
from the eight grades, any further education for black people in Weston was not
available. Ms. Bell made arrangements for many of her students to continue
their education in high schools in Kansas City and St. Joseph.
In 1935, some decline in enrollment and lack of funding prompted the Weston
School Board to consider closing the Bethune School. On April 16, 1935, Ms.
Bell received word that her contract would not be renewed. Devastated by this
action, she called a meeting of the parents to discuss a solution. She knew that
if the school was closed again, in all probability, it would never be reopened. In
the early days, some funding for the small facility was received from the
Bethune Society and the Freedmen’s Association. No records have been found
to indicate how long that support continued.
Spearheaded by local resident, Dee Dydell, the parent’s group decided to
petition the community. In just a few days, enough signatures were collected
from both black and white residents to convince the board to dig a little deeper
for operating funds. Donations were also contributed by local families.
For nearly four decades, most of Ms. Bell’s life revolved around the school
children and caring for her neighbors. However, she also knew how to have fun
and enjoyed a full social life. She traveled often, was a champion bridge player,
active in church and belonged to several organizations. She was a fan of boxer,
Joe Louis and always looked forward to the “knock out.”
In 1933, she and her sister, Hillary traveled to Illinois to attend the Chicago
World’s Fair. She recorded in her diary August 10, 1933. “Arrived in Chicago for
the first time at 8:35 A.M.. “It is thrilling!” August 14, 1933. “ We went to see
“Sally Rand, the Fan Dancer” in person. She was superb! ” Sally Rand was an
early Burlesque queen known for her clever dance with large plumbs of
Mabel Bell class 1930's
|“Arrived in Chicago for the first time at
8:35 A.M.. “It is thrilling!” August 14,
1933. “ We went to see “Sally Rand,
the Fan Dancer” in person. She was
Weston Historical Museum
All Rights Reserved
|“ My great-great-freed in
Weston.” Said Payton. “
As a young boy, running
barefoot around this town,
I never dreamed I would
be where I am today.”
Payton is now an
and designed the wings
for the NASA space
shuttles. “Ms. Bell taught
my parents and they
taught me to believe that
we were all capable of
the wisdom in that
statement made a definite
difference in my life.” He
|Weston Historical Museum
601 Main Street - Weston, MO 64098