Order of birth; James Elmer Pless – born August 08, 1928, followed by twin sister Alyce in East Lake Birmingham, Alabama. I was number six of eleven children born unto Reverend and Mrs. David Clifton Pless, who was a student minister of Howard College; now Sanford University. Several years after graduating, he accepted a circuit church charge of the North Alabama Methodist Conference and moved his family to Green Hill, Alabama. That was in the fall of 1932. Ministers of that church were required to take new assignments at two-year intervals. Consequently, the family was uprooted to move to another town; usually that would be some distance away. The loss of neighbors, church friends, school pals and many other disadvantaged facets to that system made adjusting to life more harsh, especially to the children.
Almost immediately the country went into the Great Depression and from that time life did not get better. Our frequent moving, and the accompanying poverty with us and around us, was hard to endure. Parents were perpetually saddened because of the denial of daily necessities for their children. Getting ahead was a struggle.
From Green Hill we moved to Phil Campbell, Meridianville, Mount Hope, Gordo and in the fall of 1940 the parsonage of the Cambridge Methodist Church, which is four miles to the east of Athens and towards Huntsville, Alabama. It was from this place that I went on to Mount Berry Schools for Boys near Rome, Georgia.
Inexperienced and undereducated, I entered into a great opportunity of a better environment to being prepared for adult life. To a great extent that was established and my time spent at Berry was indeed a positive factor of my life. However, as my story unfolds it reflects, like a mirror, my earlier years in which I saw and endured an existence without luxuries. All my wealth and strength was bound in family ties – I was used to the same stewardship that Martha Berry exhibited to her chosen heirs. My childhood was protected in the sanctuary of a Christian home. All evils of abusiveness and prejudice were shone.
Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice”. Perhaps I heard the voice of Martha Berry calling to me. I went.