|January 25, 2012||HAL M. STANLEY||no comments|
|January 25, 2012||RANDOM MISCELLANEA||no comments|
|January 25, 2012||COLLEGE IN EAST CENTRAL GEORGIA||no comments|
|January 03, 2012||BUD BARRON||no comments|
|January 03, 2012||JOHNNY PAYNE||no comments|
|January 03, 2012||IT HAPPENED IN ELEVEN||no comments|
|December 14, 2011||EYEWITNESS TO INFAMY||no comments|
|December 14, 2011||DON'T KILL ME, I'M JUST THE MUSIC TEACHER||2 comments|
|November 29, 2011||KENNETH HODGES||8 comments|
|November 29, 2011||ESTHER GORDY EDWARDS||no comments|
A Champion of Journalism, A Leader of Men
Hal Stanley was born with newsprint on his hands, serving people in his heart, and printer's ink flowing through his veins. From a little boy to a fully grown man, Stanley lived and breathed the business of publishing newspapers. After reaching the pinnacle of his success as the leader of the Georgia Press Association, Stanley channeled his efforts into helping his fellow man on a larger scale. It was a mission he pursued all of his adult life. And, he did it with incorruptible dignity, unparalleled compassion, and unselfish conviction.
Harris McCall Stanley was born on June 6, 1866. His father, Captain Rollin A. Stanley, served as a Captain of the local militia company during the Civil War. Stanley descended from Thomas McCall, Georgia's first surveyor general and a highly acclaimed master winemaker of his day. As a young boy, Stanley received the best possible education in a time when even the wealthiest of families in the area could scarcely afford for their children to attend higher educational institutions.
As a young man, Hal Stanley showed a keen interest in the newspaper business. As a printer's devil with the Dublin Gazette, Stanley started out as the lowest of the low, mixing inks and handing type to the printer. As a menial grunt, Hal Stanley was in good company with some of the most famous writers of his day, printer's devils like Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Joel Chandler Harris. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were printer's devils too.
In fact, being in the newspaper business ran in the Stanley family. The elder Stanley brother, Ira L. Stanley began his newspaper career with the Dublin Gazette. He was one of the founders of the Dallas Evening Herald and other newspapers in Texas. Vivian Stanley started out in the newspaper business before becoming the postmaster of Dublin and finally serving several terms on the Georgia Prison Commission. Frank R. Stanley, the fourth of the Stanley brothers to work in the newspaper business, was the printer of the Gainesville News.
In the winter of 1890, Hal Stanley assumed the role as editor of the Dublin Gazette, Laurens County's first weekly newspaper. Hal Stanley was then about to marry Ethel Stubbs, daughter of Col. John M. Stubbs, who originally founded the Gazette in 1876. Hal was only twenty-three years old. Seven years later, Hal Stanley and brother Vivian joined to establish the Dublin Courier. In 1899, the Courier merged with the Dublin Dispatch to form the Courier Dispatch. In 1913, the Dublin Courier Dispatch merged with the Laurens County Herald to become the Dublin Courier-Herald, the first daily newspaper in Laurens County.
Stanley involved himself in the workings of the Georgia Press Association. He served as President of the organization from 1907 to 1909, after which he began a thirty-year reign as the association's executive secretary. For the last five years of his life, Stanley was honored with the title of Secretary Emeritus.
But Hal Stanley wasn't just a newspaper man. He was a public servant, philanthropist and military leader. Upon the organization of the Dublin Light Infantry in the early 1890s, Stanley was elected to a leadership role as lieutenant along the side of his brother-in-law, the popular five-term mayor of Dublin, Captain Lucien Q. Stubbs. In 1894, Gov. W.Y. Atkinson appointed Stanley to his personal staff. When Stanley moved from Dublin to Eastman, he joined the Eastman Guards, serving as the unit's captain. Before returning to Dublin, Stanley moved once again, that time to Savannah, where he served in the military departments of the port city.
Stanley, ingrained with the core belief that education was of upmost importance served on the Dublin City School Board for seven years, three of which were as its President. He was an initial member of the Carnegie Library Board and was influential in the effort to secure complete funding from industrial magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
As was the usual course of the day for erudite gentlemen, Stanley was active in many fraternal organizations. His fraternity of choice was the Knights of Phythias, in which he served in nearly every capacity including Grand Prelate and Grand Chancellor of Georgia (1914-1915). Stanley also proudly proclaimed membership in the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and the Improved Order of Red Men.
Perhaps Harris McCall Stanley's most important contribution of a lasting legacy to the State of Georgia was his election as Georgia's first Commissioner of Commerce and Labor. Stanley was elected in a special election on January 10, 1912 by a wide margin. It was the first time that a native of Laurens County was elected to serve in a state wide office. That honor has gone to two other men, Agricultural Commissioner Thomas Linder and Vivian L. Stanley, Hal Stanley's younger brother, who was appointed to fill out an unexpired term on the Prison Commission in 1928 and was reelected by a popular vote in 1934. From 1934 to 1937, when Hal Stanley completed his twenty four-year term in office, the Stanley brothers were the only brothers in the history of Georgia to serve in statewide elected offices at the same time. Mr. Stanley served in several positions in state and federal government, including the positions of fertilizer and oil inspector. In World War I, Stanley aided the war effort by serving as the head of the Georgia Division, United States Employment Service for the ceremonial salary of one dollar per year.
Hal Stanley took his role as the state's first Commissioner of Commerce and Labor seriously, very seriously. Stanley sought to rid the state of unconscionable child labor practices, except on the farms. Commissioner Stanley rationalized, "Labor on the farm, even by children of tender years, cannot be of harm. Work on the farm in general is not objectionable and is conducive to health and strength."
One of the biggest "hot button" issues of the year 1914 was the issue of censorship of movies. Stanley joined the movement to remove sex from the silent movies of his day. "Motion pictures have gone from bad to worse. They are becoming more coarse and more vulgar every year," Stanley proclaimed as he commented on the growing nausea among many movie goers.
Hal Stanley used his position as a platform to promote compulsory education laws and the establishment of vocational schools on the state level after Congressman Dudley Hughes, of Twiggs County, and Georgia's U.S. Senator Hoke Smith pushed a national bill through Congress in 1917.
After his retirement from public office, Hal Stanley served as Chairman as the Industrial Board of Georgia. In his lifetime, Harris McCall Stanley received many honors. In 1931, he joined Henry Grady, Clark Howell, and W.T. Anderson as inaugural members of the Georgia Newspaper Hall of Fame, preceding Ernest Camp, Ernest Rogers, and Madge Hilburn Methvin as Laurens County's members of the elite group of newspaper journalists.
Harris McCall Stanley died on April 25, 1944 in his last hometown of Decatur, Georgia. Stanley's contributions to his native Laurens County and to his native Georgia were beyond outstanding. Stanley seemed to keep politics out of his focus, and focused instead on what was best for the citizens of our state.
MAN'S BEST FRIEND? On the night of June 5, 1900, one of the legendary and more amusing events in the history of Dublin City Government occurred. Just as Alderman J.D. Smith took his seat in the old wooden city council building during the reading of the minutes, the agenda suddenly shifted. A dog, bothered by fleas, entered the room and begin to scratch his itch. Each scratch was accompanied by a pat of the dog's tail on the wooden floor. As the intensity of the pats grew so did the irritation of the council and those present. Suddenly, Alderman Henry M. Kirke noticed that the dog was mad. Mr. Kirke and reporter C.C. Smith made it out the door near where they were standing. The usually erudite Col. James B. Sanders made a dash for the door but was cut off by the dog. Col. Sanders retreated and then climbed on a table and jumped up clinging to the railing. He pulled himself up and then proceeded to jump from a second story window. The power house superintendent then decided his services were needed at the power house and slipped by the dog. Mayor James B. Hicks and Clerk, A.R. Arnau found secure positions which they tentatively held. In an act of near-perfect unison the remaining councilmen climbed on top of tables and chairs. Finally someone yelled "Shoot him!" Before anyone could get a shot off, the fleas decided to rest. The dog's pain ceased and he was easily led from the hall. Undoubtedly a short recess followed.
THE COUNTY FISH POND - Two months had passed since the destruction of the old Laurens County Courthouse. The winter rains had filled a large hole which was left when the old courthouse was torn down. The small pond became somewhat of a joke around town. J.H. Perry Company was hired by the contractor to pump out the rain water. As the last of the water was being sucked up, the workmen found a number of catfish of various sizes flapping in the mud. Judging from the size of the fish, they had to have been put in the hole by a practical joker. The mystery of the identity of the pranksters went unsolved for thirty-four years until I read about the stunt in a 1963 newspaper. I immediately had my suspicions. It seems that Mrs. R.A. Register, wife of Commissioner R.A. Register, and Mrs. A.O. Hadden, wife of Clerk A.O. Hadden, loved to fish for catfish. While the two couples were out of town, two county officials slipped a dozen or so live catfish in the pond. The two jokers were Clerk Brantley New and County Attorney Dale Thompson. 5/2/, 5/3/1963
WHO DOESN'T WANT TO BE TAX COMMISSIONER - In the fall of 1962 following the resignation of Laurens County's tax commissioner, one of the most unusual and interesting county elections in Georgia history happened in Laurens County. The qualifying fee wasn't that much so people began to qualify for the vacancy in the tax office, first one, then another. At the end of qualifying twenty-eight men and one woman put their hats into the ring in the special election. They came from all parts of the county and all walks of life. Those running for office included: Marvin Ashley, Dewey Bedingfield, Ralph Bedingfield, Ralph Bostick, Rev. S.M. Dominy, Jack Fausett, Skeet Fordham, Bob Garrard, Hank Geeslin, John Gilbert, Eugene Harrelson, Bobby G. Hester, Calhoun Hogan, Trammel Keen, Sr., A.B. Lee, Russell T. Lord, Linton Malone, Hubert Martin, R.A. Morgan, Bush Perry, Joe Radney, Grable Ricks, Jr., C. Manly Smith, O.T. Tarpley, L.L. Thigpen, Earl Wilkes, Mary Martin Willis, and Bill Young. The flood of candidates so amused the local politicos that county attorney Dale Thompson and Superior Court Clerk Brantley New, (the same pranksters who put the catfish in the courthouse pond) had paper tags printed with the following message: "Sorry, I'm a candidate for tax commissioner. I qualified too. Work on somebody else." Bob Garrard won the election with O.T. Tarpley coming in second. The last laugh went to the owners of the Courier Herald and the printing companies who printed more ads and cards in the one special election than in many general elections. Dublin Courier Herald, Oct. 4, 1962.
STARVING ACTOR - In the early Fifties, a young actor in his mid twenties toured the United States with his wife. He was a son of one of Ziegfield's Beauties. The couple performed dramatic scenes from Mark Twain, Hamlet, McBeth, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. When the actor's wife became pregnant she was replaced by actress Lee Firestone. The new team was engaged by the Laurens County Concert Association to perform their dramatic scenes at the Central Elementary Auditorium (now City Hall) on January 17, 1952. The new acting team was known as Holbrook and Firestone. The young actor went on to fame in television and the movies. His portrayal of Mark Twain was universally recognized as one of the best in television history. The young actor was, of course, Hal Holbrook. "Dublin Courier Herald, January 14, 1952"
VIETNAM ADVISOR WINS MEDAL - Claud P. Ragan, a former school student in Dublin, left this area when his father, Claud P. Ragan, went to Washington, D.C., as Chief Clerk of the Commission on Insular and Territorial Affairs. The young Ragan attended Georgetown University and obtained his degree from George Washington University. Lt. Ragan served in Vietnam from April 12, 1963 to April 9, 1964 as an advisor to the Vietnamese Navy's 22nd River Assault Group. President Lyndon Johnson awarded the Bronze Star to Ragan for outstanding courage, leadership, and professional skill in the face of hostile fire during 13 combat operations against the Viet Cong. Despite Ragan's absence, he and his mother still maintained their family farm between Dublin and Rentz. Dublin Courier Herald, January 22, 1965.
THESE IRISH LINKSTERS WERE CHAMPIONS, TOO - The Dublin Irish football and basketball teams under Minton Williams dominated their regions and classes for most of the early 60s. Lost in the excitement was the Dublin High golfers during the period from 1962 to 1965. In their first year of competition in 1961, Coach Williams's foursome finished third in its region. During the second year Ritchie Cummings, state AA medalist, led the Irish to the state crown. Playing with Cummings were Spec Hall, Robert Swinson, and Tom Perry. In 1963, with Swinson out of commission, the team finished seventh in the state. Playing on that team was Robbie Hahn, Tom Perry, Spec Hall, and Boyd Anderson. In 1964, the Irish came from behind, making up 11 strokes in the last nine holes to tie Lovett High School. On the first hole of the playoff, the Dublin boys blew the Lovett boys off the course, capturing their second championship. The Irish foursome, under the leadership of Coach Marvin Tarpley and led by Swinson and Hall, saved their best for their last match. In the 1965 final round, Swinson won the medalist honors with a five-under-par 67. Spec Hall, Robert Brown, and Robert Dunn shot good rounds, leading the Irish to a total score of 294, a school record at the time. Swinson and Hall finished their careers with three state championships. Swinson, known to his friends as "Rabble," was named the Middle Georgia Prep Golfer of the Year by The Macon News. Swinson set a course record with a 69 and led the first two rounds of the All American Junior Tournament in Fort Myers, Florida in 1965, before losing in the final round. Dublin Courier Herald, May 11, 1965, June 22, 1965, June 28, 1965.
The Beginning of a Tradition
People began going to college in East Central Georgia one hundred and twenty years ago today. And, they are still going to colleges in places like Dublin, Swainsboro, Eastman, Sandersville, Mt. Vernon/Ailey, and Cochran, where the first college in the area opened its doors on January 10, 1887.
The leading men of the Ebenezer Baptist Association saw the need for a junior college to serve the needs of the growing areas of Laurens, Telfair, Dodge and Pulaski counties. Each county was asked to submit a proposal. Both Eastman and Cochran shared the same railroad, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad. Laurens County did not have a railroad in place in the beginning of 1886. Railroads were critical to the development of a community. And, at the time, it appeared that Dublin and Laurens County, which did not submit a bid, appeared to be not as progressive. As it turned, things would change. Laurens County became a regional center of economic, business and cultural activity. Dodge prospered during the era of mass production of timber and cotton. Pulaski lost a substantial part of its northeastern territory to a new county, Bleckley in 1912. And, it was in the future county seat of Cochran, where the association decided to establish a college, which would be called New Ebenezer College.
John T. Rogers, of Reedy Springs Baptist Church in Laurens County, joined Jonathan Knowles, Charles Parker and J.G. Wright in forming an exploratory committee to begin preparations for the funding of the project and the acquisition of sufficient lands. Doctors P.A. Jessup and T.D. Walker, Sr. got on board and convinced P.L. Peacock and J.E. O’Berry of Cochran to donate the land for the thirteen-acre, ten thousand-dollar facility.
The association appointed P.L. Peacock, T.D. Walker, Sam Mayer, W.J. Mullis, and J.G. Wright to head the building committee. The committee chose Michael O’Brien, of Hawkinsville, who based the school’s design on one of his favorite colleges in Ireland. E.B. Parker, J.G. Wright, John T. Rogers, M.L. Burch, T.D. Walker, and Jonathan Noles were selected to serve as the school’s first Board of Trustees.
The cornerstone laying ceremony was held on July 22, 1886 under the auspices of the local Masonic Lodge. J. Emmett Blackshear, the lodge’s Worshipful Master, presided over the grand observance.
One hundred and twenty five years ago today on January 10, 1887, the doors of New Ebenezer College opened its doors to approximately one hundred students in a hall across the street from the First Baptist Church of Cochran. Palemon J. King presided over the new school. Professor King, a large and powerfully built man, was already a well-respected school leader from Shelby, North Carolina and would gain wide recognition in Rome, Georgia. King, a graduate of Mercer and a former soldier in the Confederate army, came highly recommend by school officials in Cave Springs and Shorter College.
Within a few months, the students moved into the first permanent building on campus, a two-story structure.
Initial tuition rates that first semester were $2.00 per month for primary courses, $3.00 per month intermediate classes, $4.00 per month for music classes and $5.00 per month for college classes per month. By the way, it would cost you the mere pittance of $12.00 per month to board in the house with the principal.
The college’s curriculum included mathematics, history, Latin, Greek, elocution and English as well as courses in vocal and instrumental music. Eventually courses in art, business and military science were offered. Captain Isaac E. Neff took charge of the military school and established what was called the "Broom Brigade," who dressed in bright and colorful Zouave uniforms.
College officials guaranteed that each boy and girl who attended would be thoroughly prepared for the best colleges and universities.
Perhaps the college’s most well known professor was Lucy Mae Stanton, who taught art during the 1893-1894 term. Stanton was one of Georgia’s most widely heralded female artists of the late 19 th and early 20 th Centuries.
J.M. King succeeded Palemon J. King in 1888. Other principals of the college during its eleven-year history were: W.B. Seals (90-93,) E.M. Turner (93-96,) A.M. Duggan (96-97,) and finally W.E. Jenkins (97-98).
Former graduate and long time Cochran attorney, Lucian A. Whipple, Sr. once hailed New Ebenezer College as a "beacon light" for that section of thee state. Whipple maintained that the college contributed greatly to the economic development of the region between Macon to Brunswick, where there were few if any high schools.
By the mid 1890s, the association’s support for Ebenezer College began to wane. In an election to provide local funding, Cochran residents voted down the measure to support, "The Pride of Cochran."
When the New Ebenezer College closed, the facilities were taken over by the Cochran school system, with Dr. Jessup and Dr. Walker, two of the school’s most ardent boosters, joining others in taking over the college’s outstanding debt. After nearly twenty years, Cochran High School moved to a new location and once again, the school buildings were abandoned.
During the years of World War I, both Cochran and Dublin competed for the location of the newly created 12 th Congressional District Agricultural and Mechanical School. Despite the greater resources in Dublin, Cochran was awarded the location of school, which opened on the first Monday in October 1919.
After only eight years of operation, the Georgia Legislature adopted a law which changed the name of the school to Middle Georgia Agricultural and Mechanical College. Two years later, the name was shortened to Middle Georgia College.
So, now you know a little history of the tradition of the one time Baptist school which evolved into one of our areas most important resources. And, it all began, one hundred and twenty five years ago today.
The Pilot's Pilot
Bud Barron loved to fly in the skies. He flew toward the heavens for more than fifty years. When he saw his first plane at a Macon fair when he was a child, Bud knew that someday he wanted to fly. The Dublin pilot flew his plane for nearly forty thousand hours over the fields of Central Georgia, across the rivers, plains and mountains of America, and over the oceans of the Earth. It was seventy years ago when Winton Hill Barron, "Bud" to his friends, began his journey toward becoming a military pilot. And, it was thirty four years ago, when the citizens of Laurens County, Georgia named their airport after the man they called, "The Pilot's Pilot."
Bud Barron was born in Johnson County, Georgia on December 21, 1906 to his parents William H. Barron and Eliza Moye Barron. The family moved to Sandersville and after World War I, back to Lovett in northwestern Laurens County. Barron's father operated a grocery store in Lovett and Dublin. In 1930, Bud Barron was listed in the census as a café owner.
Bud Barron began to fly airplanes in 1928, soon after he took his first plane ride. "It cost me $40.00 for me and my date to go up. It was worth every bit of it," he recalled. It was during the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s when many young men and boys in Laurens County were captivated by the thrill and allure of flying airplanes.
Interestingly, living next door to the Barrons in their Washington Street home was Clay F. Bell. Clay Bell began flying at the age of 16. During World War II, he served as a bombardier in the 483rd bombardment group.
Bud bought his first plane, a Curtis Junior, in South Georgia. Of that plane, Barron once said, "My first plane a three-cylinder engine mounted on top of the wing with the propeller above the body behind the wing." Barron described his aircraft as "a piece of junk" which he restored with chicken wire, orange crates, and bed sheets. He flew along the highways back to Dublin to keep from getting lost.
"It finally wound up in the top of a big tree with my partner in it," Barron said. "It cut off both of his heels," he added during an interview as he reflected on his life in the air.
Barron considered himself and other like him as daredevils. "You just fix up a piece of junk and fly it," Bud fondly remembered.
In fact, Barron taught himself how to fly, according to Reed Salley, a lifelong friend. To pay his bills, Barron barnstormed all over southern Georgia giving plane rides for a nominal and paltry fee. After eight years of flying, Barron obtained a pilot's license when it became mandatory in 1936.
It was on the last day of 1941, some three weeks after the beginning of World War II, when Bud Barron received a telegram acknowledging his acceptance into the Army Air Force Ferry Command at Nashville, Tennessee.
Barron quickly moved up the line as an officer. After completing a seven-week course in St. Joseph, Missouri, he rose to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. By the end of 1943, Barron was promoted to Captain. The Captain was lauded by a St. Joseph's newspaper when he brought down a cargo plane on a runway without lights and with only minor damage to the aircraft.
Bud Barron was what they used to call a "ferry pilot." It was his mission to transport bombers, cargo planes and fighter planes from the United States to points around the world. Within his first year, Barron flew across the South Atlantic Ocean 8 times, the North Atlantic Ocean 7 times and across the Pacific Ocean twice. When he wasn't flying new or repaired planes, Barron flew troops to their new assignments and back home.
Businessman Ed Herrin said of Barron, "He flew just about every kind of airplane used by the United States during World War II."
Barron continued to serve his country as a commander of the Air Force Reserve squadron at Robins Air Force base, retiring in 1959 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
When Barron returned home after the war, he obtained a lease for a portion of the old Naval airport. Barron, in 1948, established the Georgia Aviation School, the first crop-dusting aviation school in the State of Georgia. Barron saw his business as an integral part of the agricultural community. "I've dusted thousands and thousands of acres. We are as much a part of farming nowadays as tractors," he maintained.
Barron added hangars and other buildings and transformed the remnants of the old naval airport into a first-class facility, so much so that Ed Herrin said, "Dublin became a favorite stopping place for pilots flying from the east coast to Florida."
Any pilot has many stories. He spoke of the time when he crashed his plane while piloting revenue agents, who were looking for liquor stills in the North Georgia mountains or the days when he flew Georgia governor Lester Maddox across the state during campaign events.
Barron died on August 17, 1981. In his fifty years as a pilot, Barron flew in the skies for at least four full years. Of his love of flying, Barron was often quoted as saying, "Once it bites you, it's worse than any disease." Despite his retirement and his long battle with cancer, Barron vowed to keep flying. "You get up there, flying around those big cumulus clouds, going in one side and coming out the other and you're all alone, there's nothing else like it." Barron said in one of his last interviews.
Winton Hill "Bud" Barron was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on April 29, 2000. His contributions to aviation in Dublin and to the war effort of the United States during World War II will last into the next century. The people of Laurens County honored Bud Barron upon his retirement with the naming of the Laurens County Airport, which officially opened as the "W.H. 'Bud' Barron Airport" on January 3, 1978, thirty-four years ago today.
Walking Point in Vietnam
Many of you know John L. "Johnny" Payne. He has been a fixture in the religious, military, civic, scouting, business, and athletic activities of Laurens County for most of his life. Those years he wasn't living here and contributing to our community, he was nearly half way around the world, serving our country in the jungles of Vietnam. What you may not have known is that his job was one of the most dangerous an infantry soldier could be assigned. He was the
one walking in front of a jungle patrol, the one likely to make contact with the enemy first, he was walking point."
When Sergeant Johnny Payne was walking the point, he saw green, and more green. His eyes scanned the thick jungle paths of central Vietnam for venomous vipers, slithering serpents, essentially invisible booby traps, and the elusive Viet Cong, all the while enduring horrendous eat and monotonous monsoons, not to mention the loathsome leaches.
A once famous psychic, Jeanne Dixon, predicted that Payne's unit would be wiped out in Vietnam. That very same unit had been wiped out, some ninety four years earlier. That outfit, Bravo Co., 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, fifth platoon was previously commanded by General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. "We did have some contact that day, but there were no deaths, not even any injuries," Payne remembered.
"I was very fortunate to have been born in Dexter and Laurens County, hunting and fishing," Payne asserted. " I could have had all the college degrees in the world and I could have been very skilled at reading maps, but that skill set of knowing your senses and the senses in your body came in good, " in commenting on how he was able to cope with the stress being the lead man in a jungle patrol.
As a platoon of less than thirty men moved out along trails or simply through dense trail-less jungles, one man was responsible for walking point. In Johnny Payne's platoon, the average life expectancy was from seven to ten days. The point man was usually the first person to make contact with an enemy sniper, a deadly mine or a booby trap.
Payne considering himself blessed, professed, "I wouldn't follow a trail, but we as a platoon would work off the old French trails which had a lot of movement on them." He always tried to walk through the dense jungles, stopping every once in a while to untangle himself from a "wait a minute" vine, which entangled in his uniform, his gear or his exposed skin.
"I really wanted to walk point because I felt comfortable doing it," Payne, two to three years out of high school, recalled. Walking point didn't make him proud, but he was more comfortable in the fact that some of his comrades came from New Jersey, the Bronx, Colorado and other places. Some had never fired a weapon. "I had an advantage. I walked point on my own for about five months. I pretty much volunteered," Payne added.
Crossing streams was especially difficult. At the point where the patrol was crossing, they were the most vulnerable to enemy fire. "When we got to a stream, we would never have more than one or two men in the stream when we were crossing it and then we would fan out right and left," Sgt. Payne believed as the reason his unit's casualties were kept to a minimum.
Payne soon realized that the hardest thing his unit could do would be called in to aid another unit in an existing firefight. He learned to instantly recognize and differentiate the reports of an AK-47 and an M-16. "As you got closer to the firefight, with the helicopters overhead, with the artillery support from an artillery base in the jungle or off the coast, you had to put all that into your perspective. Your senses and your ability to listen is just amazing," Payne
"Life in the jungle was a struggle, you didn't know if you would live to see the next day," Payne said. His unit would go out on patrols lasting from fifteen to twenty days, sometimes twenty-five days without a break. The unit was re-supplied every four or five days with food and if they were lucky, with treasured letters from home.
Every soldier had to adapt to the lack of sleep and the lack of food. Walking guard duty at night was expected of almost every member of the patrol. "We worked as a team, never in the same place every night," Payne said. "Once we hit the ground, your rank didn't matter. When the unit got to a camp site, everyone took part in setting up trip flares and Claymore mines along the perimeter, as well as guarding the forward and rear areas," he added.
Being in the jungle itself presented natural problems. "It rained every day at 4:00 p.m. During the monsoon season, it rained twenty-four hours a day, all week long," Payne recalled. He saw all sorts of animals that he never saw in the swamps of Rocky Creek back home in Dexter. There were cobras and bamboo vipers, too. He saw one of those little green bamboo vipers lying on his stomach one morning after waking up from a night's sleep.
Decent food was a treat. Payne remembered the Chinook helicopters dropping "Gaines Burgers," military lingo for some type of mystery meat molded into a burger. "I weighed 160 pounds, but while I was in Vietnam my stomach shrunk. When I got home, I am afraid that I disappointed my mama. She cooked a big bowl of chili. I was only able to eat half of it. I think
she died believing that she had burned it or something," Payne recalled.
Payne got an unexpected break during one patrol. Carrying the rank of private first class early in his career, Payne began his first tour of duty in Vietnam on September 1, 1970. One day, he was ordered out of the jungle to appear before a review board. Appearing in his jungle fatigues and with no bath in at least ten days, Corporal Payne was examined and sent back to the
jungle that afternoon. "The next thing I knew, I was a sergeant," he recalled.
Losing friends is always hard. Johnny lost his assistant gunner while he was carrying a machine gun. Still today, some four decades later, Johnny gets a lump in his throat as he serves as a master of ceremonies to honor veterans who gave their lives to their country. Payne said, "I get emotional. I know that somewhere out there is a gold star mother who has lost her son."
Johnny Payne returned to the United States a year after he first arrived in Vietnam. He was proud to serve in the infantry. His return to the United States was all too typical of the way veterans from Vietnam were treated. Payne and his fellow soldiers didn't come up to the tarmac after their plane landed.
"There were people standing there. I really had no understanding of what they were going to be saying or doing. They were yelling at us, throwing rocks, spitting at us. It was awful to see that happening," he recollected. Payne was puzzled. "These people didn't know. They were yelling baby killers, which is what they had seen on TV," he added.
Some people were supportive, but it took a while for Johnny Payne to once again be proud of serving his country. Today when he sees a Vietnam veteran with a cap on, he tells them that he was proud to serve with them. "Time has a way of healing thoughts. A lot of people thanked me, although some went to their graves with no thanks, except from their families," he added.
Payne says that our citizens should communicate with returning veterans. He says that all veterans are the same regardless of which war or actions they served in. "They don't want to be treated as heroes, but they do want to be treated as normal people. Don't look the other way, he requested. "The hardest of hearts needs love. It will either come in or come out," he asserted.
Payne says the cost of freedom is high. "It has been paid by so many people and it is an expensive one," he continued. "We had great needs for prayers, letters, care packages, and most of all, love and acceptance when we came home," he added. The mental anguish resulting from a war that was never won was compounded by the way in which Payne and his fellow veterans
were received. "We quietly slipped back into society as quickly as possible. Only members of our immediate families seemed to share in the secrets of our own personal wars that would now begin. Our hearts had been broken and many of our dreams had been shattered," Payne proclaimed as he gave credit to the churches and God himself.
When Johnny Payne looks back on his service in Vietnam, he is honored to have been a part of it. In fact, our country recognized his heroism with the awarding of a Bronze Star for valor, although he does not consider himself by any means a hero.
Johnny Payne was one of the lucky ones. He beat the odds. And, all of us in Laurens County who have benefitted from his deeds of public charity and acts of volunteer service are lucky that he survived.
When walking the point, Sgt. John L. Payne knew that God was there and that he could turn to Him for guidance. "There is no doubt in my mind, that God helped me not to get shot with as many firefights as I was in," he believes. In one of those firefights, Payne's helmet fell off and rolled away from him. Two hours later, he was able to retrieve it. Payne picked up his steel pot with its 19 holes, each put there by a pecking sniper believing there was a living skull
underneath it. "It was divine intervention. God was looking after me for some reason," he said.
Welcome home Johnny Payne! Thank you for your service to our country.
Walking Point (abridged)
His rifle was in perfect order,
he wasn't - fear, fear of not feeling fear,
the heat, mud, and mosquitoes
all addled his brain housing group
as he walked and thought along.
Thou shalt not kill,
that stuff didn't work here,
God must have stayed back
in the real world.
Is any of this real?
Is this a green nightmare
I'm going to wake up from?
He sang to himself as
his senses gathered evidence
of continued existence
His eyes saw, his ears heard,
his heart felt a numb nothing,
his mind analyzed it all
as he studied the trail
He amused himself as he walked along
the old story about bullets, Ha.
Don't sweat the one that's got your
name on it, worry about the one addressed:
To Whom It May Concern.
Movement!, something is moving up there!
Drop to the mud, rifle pointing at the unknown,
Looks like two of them, hunting him.
They have rifles but he saw them first.
Breathe, Relax, Aim, Slack, Squeeze.
The shooting is over in five seconds,
the shakes are over in a half hour,
the memories are over, never.
IT HAPPENED IN ELEVEN
Not all news stories make the headlines of long-lasting importance. On the other hand, some seemingly inconsequential stories do have an impact on the way will live, a century later. Others had no long term significance, but at the time, they were interesting, curious, or downright fascinating. These are some of those stories which made the news in the year Nineteen and eleven.
The tabulations of the 1910 Census were in. Dublin grew at an unbelievable rate of 94 percent in the first decade of the 20th Century, leading to the horn-tooting moniker, "Dublin - the only city in Georgia that's doublin' all the time." That rate paled in comparison to the 240 percent population increase in the 1890s. Over those two decades, the county seat grew from 863 people to 5,795, for a 572 percent increase. Dublin ended the decade as the 19th largest city in the state. Laurens County, with its 35,501 enumerated residents, was tabulated as the 7th largest county in the state, just a few hundred inhabitants behind Muscogee County.
The year 1911 was one of the most productive, if not the most productive, in the history of Laurens County agriculture. Local farmers produced more than 60,000 bales of cotton, each weighing 500 pounds, for a total of thirty million pounds - a figure which was more than any other county in Georgia that year and more than the yearly crop of Missouri. That record stood for nearly eight decades when machine harvested mega farms in South Georgia topped the mark.
Laurens County corn farmers were also right proud. Messers D.R. Thomas and J.T. Mercer planted twelve acres of prize winning corn. J.E. Smith, Jr. and the Chamber of Commerce pledged to pay a bounty of $1000 to anyone who could match the yield of the men, who produced 1,050 bushels on 9.5 acres in 1910. The reward was never claimed, leading to a local booster's claim that this Laurens County patch was the best in the United States. One indicator of the superlative agricultural productively of the county came when a local hardware company ordered twelve car loads of a popular plow. Eight years before the same firm only purchased on twelve plows. G.W. Kent came to Laurens County in 1896 without a single cent. A decade and a half later, the successful farmer operated a diverse 158-acre, three-mule farm and made a profit of $3,000 without incurring any debt.
Laurens County had the largest corn club in the state with 241 boys and 292 girls enrolled. R.P. Vaughn was right proud of his pig. He even charged folks ten cents a head to come by his house at 302 Jefferson Street to see his highly prized and overly heralded, one-headed pig, which possessed two bodies and eight feet.
The Mingledorffs of Dublin were known locally and across the countryside for their marathon bicycle trips. Frank, George, Claude, and Lambuth Mingledorf took their first ride over to Guyton, Georgia and back. They liked cycling so much that Frank and Claude rode their bicycles to Wilmore, Kentucky where they attended school. In the late spring of 1911, George, Claude and Lambuth set out in a northerly direction and pedaled all the way to Canada and back.
The year was also a prime year in banking circles. The Commercial Bank of Dublin, with a capital stock of $25,000 was chartered by J.M. Page, E.D. White, R.R. Johnson, C.O. Sikes, J.O. Barnes and A.P. Hilton. The Farmers State Bank of Dexter was headed by F.M. Daniel, Jerome Kennedy, John D. Walker, Dr. L.W. Wiggins, H.L. King, W.P. McClelland, Ernest Clarke, C.T. Beacham, Sr., P.A. Ashley, B.F. Wood, and F.L. Hobbs. The Montrose Banking Company, with $25,000 in assets, was founded by C.R. Williams, W.S. Burns, J.H. Rowland, E.J. Garbutt, W.M. Allen, H.E. Butler, Joel A. Smith, Sam Bashinski, W.G. Thompson, H.C. Black, Mrs. O.J. Pierce, E.L. Wade, C.C. Wade and W.R. Cook. A fourth bank, the Bank of Lovett, was incorporated by B.T. Kight, L.J. Manning, Dr. C.H. Manning, C.H. Moorman, A.J. Carter, J.D. Matthews, D.A. Moorman, W.T. Bridges, Mrs. P.M. Johnson, Della Manning, E.J. Smith, R.T. bray, C.W. Mills, J.J. Wyhnn, I.T. Jackson, M.F. Hightower, G.L. Garnto, J.D. Garnto, J.W. Stewart, E.K. Sumner, John B. Haines, A.W. Newson, B.W. Morgan, W.D. Sumner, Wright Sumner, Mrs. E.A. Hall, and C.R. Williams. The fifth and final bank organized in 1911 was the Bank of Rentz, which was founded by T.J. Taylor, H.D. Barron, John D. Walker, J.T. Mercer, J.F. Graham, P.C. Coleman, W.E. Bedingfield, W.A. Bedingfield, and B.O. Rogers.
The first leg of what would become Highway 80 was graded from Turkey Creek to the Wilkinson County line. The eight-mile stretch was part of a 54 mile road said to be one of the finest roads in the state.
Dudley folks had a lot of excitement in the first year of the second decade of the 20th Century. A firebug torched the home of Rev. S.W. Gray and the Dudley Supply Company within two weeks. Dudley lost the dormitory of the Dudley School and the Baptist Church two years before. Excitement of a different kind came on August 10, when gubernatorial candidate Pope Brown spoke to an assembled multitude of three thousand persons who came for car races, music, and barbeque.
Ice cream lovers loved the news the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Work's announced that it was making forty gallons per hour. Aldine Hawkins promised delivery of the company's "Hokey Pokey" ice cream in sanitary churns all over the county in ample time for dinner. Hawkins promised his ice cream would last for days before melting.
Only the second and third brick homes ever built in Dublin were constructed in 1911. J.S. Almond built a two-story brick house between his and J.A. Peacock's on Monroe Street. The house still stands and is a part of the Townsend Brothers Funeral home complex. A.B. Eubanks built Bellevue Avenue's first brick home (1305). The two-story, ten-room house was erected at a cost of $6,000.00 and was formerly owned by the Graves, Hilburn, Allgood and Davis families among others.
In what appears to be the first game of basketball ever played, or at least reported to be played, by a Laurens County team, Dublin High's boys traveled to Macon to face the second team of Mercer University. Frank Grier, Currell Daniel, Leon Bush, Edgar Hodges, Sam Daniel and Lee Smith lost 34-3 and returned the following week to see their first win on the outdoor court in Stubbs Park. When players and spectators needed a refreshing drink, all they had to do was to go over to the new artesian well, dug by Thad Bostick. Bostick's pride and joy provided cool, clear water at the rate of 50 gallons per minute. That output didn't count the half-million gallons per day used by city water customers.
For the first decade and a half of electrical service, the City of Dublin acted as the only provider of electrical wiring. That practiced stopped in 1911 when private electricians took over the job of lighting our homes and businesses.
Of the year's most lasting impact was the formation of the Laurens County Baptist Association in November, which is more active in serving the needs of its members and the needy than it ever has been before.
As I complete my fifteenth year of writing "Pieces of Our Past," I want to thank each and every one of you who have enjoyed my writing. My zeal for writing comes from the stories of the outstanding people who call Laurens County and East Central Georgia their home and the hope they will inspire others. And, always remember that our most important history is in our future.
EYEWITNESS TO INFAMY
Pancakes were all that Marjorie Wilson could think about as she drifted in and out of her Sunday morning dreams. It was just another normal sunny day, or so Marjorie thought. When she could practically smell pancakes, Marjorie rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, got out bed, put on her robe and headed downstairs to the kitchen. Pleasant thoughts turned into nightmares. Did it not seem real? Was it a all a bad dream?
The date was December 7, 1941. The place was Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The clock in the Wilson house was about to strike eight. Marjorie Hobbs Wilson, daughter of Walter A. Hobbs and Mary Arnold Hobbs, awoke from dreaming about pancakes to witness a nightmare, the momentous bombing of Pearl Harbor, which turned the world on its head. It was a cataclysmic day. It was a day which still lives in infamy seven decades later.
Marjorie's husband, Sergeant Major Bob Wilson, was stationed in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor. Relations between the United States and Japan had begun to deteriorate. Many expected a war, but not that soon, and not in this way.
Bob Wilson was the first to awake that morning. The Wilsons heard no alarms, no air raid warnings. Bob, running up the steps of the couple's two story house, said, "Honey, you are missing a good mock war." Sgt. Major Wilson looked out the window again and realized that it was no drill. The roar of planes near the naval base wasn't unusual. In fact, the Wilsons and other servicemen and their families had grown accustomed to planes engaging in maneuvers.
Marjorie looked out the window. "The Jap planes were flying so low over our house that the wheels were almost rolling on the roofs. I knew it was the real thing when I saw a bomb make a direct hit," she recalled.
Bob Wilson, a veteran of the first World War, ran to his closet and began to put on his Marine uniform. Marjorie turned on the radio. Frantic broadcasters were constantly announcing that Japanese planes were attacking the Island of Oahu and for all men to report for duty at once. Bob got to his unit as soon as he could.
Marjorie Wilson first ran to the home of her girlfriend, Margaret De Sadler. Then Marjorie and Margaret went over to Harriett Hemmingway's house. As they ran down the streets, Mrs. Wilson recalled running along a quiet street, but seeing real bombs exploding nearby.
"Several girls had gathered there and we were there when the worst part was going on," Marjorie wrote in a letter to her parents later in the day. Mrs. Wilson recalled, "There were about seven kids there and all scared stiff. Harriett was almost out of her head. She has two little boys, one three and one five." I haven't been scared so far. I don't guess I've got enough sense to be."
More of the wives and their children gathered in the house. While the attack was on, the ladies kept their children calm by lying on the floor with them and drawing pictures. "I never knew anything about drawing before, but after that session, I think I am a pretty fair artist," Wilson chuckled. When one piece of shrapnel came inside the house, the children were herded into an interior room. Marjorie reached down and picked up the metallic souvenir.
Margaret accompanied Marjorie back to the Wilson house, where they put some clothes in a suitcase just in case they needed to evacuate to the hills. Bob Wilson returned to his house to make sure Marjorie had a radio to hear special announcements as all regular radio programming was suspended.
During the carefully premeditated surprise attack, Mrs. Wilson observed, "Some of the youngsters in the service ran out on the field shaking their fists at the Japanese planes even when they saw a bomb falling their way." She observed one Marine cook firing away with his anti-aircraft gun. The man suddenly remembered that he had a chocolate cake in the oven and ran to make sure it wasn't burning. "It was a silly thing to think of at a time like that - but those boys did enjoy the cake when the fireworks were over," she fondly recalled.
On that Sunday night, practically every light in Pearl Harbor was turned off. Marjorie and Margaret pulled down a mattress from the upstairs and tried to get some sleep on the downstairs floor. Marjorie took out a pen and wrote a letter back to her parents promising to let them know how she was doing as often as she could. " As soon as I can, I'll send you a wire, but I don't know now when that will be possible," she also wrote.
"We spent a pretty quiet night. Of course, Margaret and I both slept with one eye and one ear open," Marjorie recalled. The ladies had some comfort in the fact that a sentry was stationed right in front of her house.
At one o'clock in the morning, Alfred Sturgis rang the door bell and invited the ladies to come stay with him. Sturgis, who had worked all day at the Navy yard, couldn't drive his car during the blackout periods. Sturgis took Marjorie's letter and made sure it made it back to Dublin, just in time for Christmas.
After the initial shock, things at Pearl Harbor seemed to return to normal, or at least as normal as it could be under the circumstances. Marjorie remembered the blackouts every night. She recalled seeing Japanese merchants being rounded up and hauled in front of late night tribunals. She regretted that she and the other wives rarely saw their husbands. The ladies had gas, lights and water for the next day, but military officials cut off the water after reports that insurgents had poisoned the water supply.
Marjorie Hobbs returned to Atlanta three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She didn't want to come home and leave her husband behind. "I got my orders so here I am - and I am going to try to find some kind of war work to do as soon as I can," she told Celestine Sibley of the Atlanta Constitution.
Marjorie eventually returned to Dublin. She was a member of the John Laurens DAR, the Shamrock Garden Club and was the first president of the Dublin Service League. Bob Wilson made it home safely too. After retiring as a Warrant Officer from the Marine Corps, Bob owned and operated the Western Auto Store in town. He died in 1980. Marjorie Hobbs Wilson died on July 20, 2002 and is buried in Northview Cemetery in Dublin.
It was seventy years ago tomorrow when Marjorie Wilson woke up from a dream and witnessed that infamous day, the day the world changed forever.
DON'T KILL ME!
I'M JUST THE MUSIC TEACHER!
Charles Vet didn't know at the time why he was being thrashed and pommeled. When he found out, the music maestro hired two of the best out of town lawyers he could find and afford. He took his attackers to Federal court and won.
In the winter of 1906, Dublin's Board of Education hired Charles Vet as the school system's music teacher. The French-speaking teacher taught piano and music lessons on the side to supplement his woefully meager salary.
On the night of May 29, 1906, Professor Vet went to bed in his modest apartment contemplating the next day's musical lessons. Vet maintained that B.A. Hooks entered his room and through a clever ruse induced him to come outside because he was wanted by the Board of Education. All of a sudden, a quintette of malefactors flogged, beat and battered him with wooden clubs and brass knuckles as retribution for his alleged wholly inappropriate and highly offensive remarks directed at a young unmarried female teacher in the school. Hooks maintained that Vet drew a gun on him and his friends as they were leaving the scene. He claimed that they acted solely in self defense. Vet, on the other hand, claimed that he did try to draw his gun, but that his attackers ripped it out of his coat and stabbed him in the throat.
Vet was so drubbed that he could not get out of his bed for a week. Being an helpless outsider, the pummeled professor had no luck in having his attackers arrested on felony criminal charges. With no other place to go, Professor Vet moved to Florida. His only practical remedy was to file a civil suit in a court of jurisdiction outside the limits of Laurens County.
Professor Vet, seeking at least $10,000.00 in damages, hired Du Pont Guerry and Peter W. Meldrim to file a case of trespass and assault in Federal court in Macon. He named as defendants, B. A. Hooks, T. W. Hooks, Blount Freeman, Daniel Driggars, and Andrew A. Cowart. Guerry, a frequent gubernatorial candidate and a long time U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, left his previous position as President of Wesleyan College in 1909 to return to private practice. Meldrim, known to have been both a literal and figurative fighter in the courtroom, would later become Judge of Chatham County Superior Court.
A trial was held on May 20, 1911 in the Federal Court Building in Macon. The illustrious Emory Speer served as the presiding judge. The defendants hired Alexander and Charles Ackerman, both of Dublin to defend them. Alexander Akerman was the Assistant U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District. A year later, Akerman would become the U.S. Attorney. After moving to Florida, Alexander Akerman was named to the Federal bench by President Calvin Coolidge. His brother Charles was a practicing attorney in Dublin.
After a series of procedural maneuvers, the first day's testimony shocked those spectators who were hoping for a sensational scandal. Defendant B.A. Hooks took the stand first and professed that it was Vet, who drew a gun on him and the other defendants.
Professor Vet, speaking in broken English, took the stand and reiterated essentially the same story of the unprovoked attack on him. Courtroom curiosity seekers, the lawyers and even Judge Speer had to lean in toward Vet to understand his barely discernible testimony.
Vet testified that he had some difficulty with Miss Dew, the school's elocution teacher. According to the music teacher, Miss Dew wanted to use the piano in an upcoming school exhibition. He testified that he told the young teacher that she was "unladylike" as he took the piano into his own classroom. The Akermans introduced police reports tending to indicate that Vet had committed prior instances of insulting comments toward women.
To prove their claim that Vet's body had been seriously injured, Guerry and Meldrim introduced his broken, crushed hat along with his tattered, bloody coat, spattered with Vet's own blood. His lawyers pointed to a scar on his throat and claimed that the brutal attack was the proximate cause of their client's deafness.
Professor W.R. Lanier, a most credible and well-respected witness, testified that he heard Hooks say, "If I could get two or three helpers, I will give Vet a thrashing."
Miss Dew, described by a Macon Telegraph reporter as "young and attractive," took the stand next. A hush fell over the room as all present intensely listened. Judge Speer ruled that her testimony was irrelevant and excused the teacher from the courtroom.
One by one the other defendants took the stand. Blount Freeman, T.W. Hooks and Daniel Driggars denied that they had any part in the alleged attack. A.A. Cowart did not make an appearance, a move claimed by some to be calculated to avoid a judgment as he was insolvent. The trio placed the blame on Hooks and Cowart, who had previously plead guilty in the Dublin City Court. J.L. Robinson was sworn in and testified that Freeman, T.W. Hooks, and Driggars had no part in the fracas. Dr. J.M. Page, testifying on behalf of the defendants, stated that Vet's wounds were not as serious as he had declared.
In their closing arguments, Vet's attorneys reviewed the evidence and asserted that they had established a prima facie case against the defendants. Dublin Judge John S. Adams, one of the city's most well respected attorneys, argued that Vet had been lying about his $100.00 a month income as he had earned more than $60.00 a week. Alex Akerman pointed out the fact that Vet's straw hat was not bent on its right side, the side in which Vet stated he could not hear out of. Akerman proceeded with a grand theory that the actions of the defendants were nothing more than Southern chivalry in protecting the virtues of the young and innocent female teacher.
Meldrim, a consummate courtroom performer, rose to his feet, threw down his notes, and yelled, "Southern chivalry, bah!" He questioned whether or not chivalry was luring a simple stranger from a foreign land into the dark and beating him dangerously. Judge Speer agreed and charged the jury that all evidence of chivalry was irrelevant. Speer accented his point by stating generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the epitome of Southern chivalry, would not have shown that kind of behavior.
The jury deliberated for an hour before returning a verdict against B.A. Hooks and A.A. Cowart in the amount of $1,000.00 each and $300.00 from T.W. Hooks, Blount Freeman, and Daniel Driggars, collectively. B.A. Hooks appealed to Judge Speer for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict of the jury. Judge Speer denied the motion and Hooks filed an appeal to the District Court of Appeals. The following November, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.
It was one of those cases when no one went home happy. Vet, partially deaf and only slightly compensated after paying his two high-priced attorneys, and Hooks and his accomplices, greatly lighter in their wallets, couldn't understand what they did was wrong. Vet, at least could take some consolation in the fact that he was still playing the piano with two good hands and listening with one good ear.
KENNETH HODGES: A VETERAN'S VETERAN
There was a time when many people in the United States of America turned their backs on Kenneth Hodges. But, there has never been a moment in the last forty eight years when Kenneth Hodges ever dreamed of turning his back on the United States of America. Called a "baby-killer" and a "murderer," Kenneth Hodges had good reasons to feel anger, to furiously lash out at those who assaulted him with hate and looked away in pathetic apathy. Instead, Kenneth Hodges sought out a higher power, one who gave him a special mission to serve his country. And, thirty seven years later, he is still carrying out that personal mission with eternal pride and with gracious honor, giving back to those veterans who have also served our country.
AN HONORABLE WAY
As Kenneth Hodges walked off the stage with his diploma from B.D. Perry High School in his hand, he knew that serving in the military would be an honorable way. He had an uncle, Hubert Mathis, who had been in the Army. He thought to himself that he wanted to make the military a career. So, he enlisted in the Army, just three weeks after graduation in 1963.
His values of country, honor, and doing right had been ingrained into Kenneth since he was a young boy by his mother, Mrs. Pauline Mathis Hodges, and his father, J. Richard Hodges. Mrs. Hodges began her teaching career in one-room school houses. In her thirty-five years of teaching school, Mrs. Hodges taught in churches which were specially outfitted for classes and the old Buckeye Junior High School, before teaching at B.D. Perry School on Highway 319. Mrs. Hodges ended her career as a teacher at East Laurens Primary School in the early 1970s.
Kenneth entered the infantry and was assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment of the 11th Brigade of the 23rd (Americal) Division. As one of the division's crack units after training at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, the 20th regiment was sent to the Province of Quang Ngai, one of the most pro-Viet Cong provinces of South Vietnam.
The Americal Division had taken many casualties since its arrival in November 1967. As many as one third of the losses came from booby traps and mines, many of which were set by civilians sympathetic to the Viet Cong cause.
Charlie Company suffered its worst casualties on February 25, 1968. Captain Ernest Medina was awarded the Silver Star for his actions in rescuing his men. Medina and many field grade officers demanded that their men keep up an all out attack on the Viet Cong and their sympathizers. Regimental planners formulated a plan to clear the villages of My Lai of all Viet Cong.
March 16, 1968: Hodges recalled, "The morning of the 16th started early. The mood was sort of somber, but there was an edge of excitement." Hodges said in a 1989 Frontline documentary, "We knew we were going into something big and we were gonna deal with them." Normally a rifleman carried 180 rounds of ammo. Hodges remembered, "We were instructed to pack a triple basic load of ammunition. So we were expecting great resistance in that village."
Hodges and the other squad leaders were guiding their men into position to move out. "It was quite clear that no one was to be spared in that village, Hodges said, "The orders meant killing small kids, killing women, because they were soldiers," he added. The men of Charlie Company knew that refusing to carry out an order could result in punishment. Twenty-one years after the incident, Hodges recalled, "If one of my men had refused to shoot, I shudder to think what have been the repercussions. It's hard to say now what I would have done, looking back. At the time that it actually happened, he would have been in serious trouble."
In justifying his actions at My Lai, Hodges, in the Frontline documentary, said, "As a professional soldier, I had been taught to carry out the orders and at no time did it ever cross my mind to disobey or to refuse to carry out an order that was issued by my superiors." His soldiers were trained that way. "It's either you or the enemy, and the people who were in that village, the women, the little kids, the old men, were all considered the enemy," he said. Sgt. Hodges taught his soldiers how to deal with the enemy when they came face to face with him. "They are trained to be killers," he added."
In a 2010 American Experience documentary, Hodges, some forty-two years after My Lai, maintained that he and the others were following orders. "You train a man to soldier, you take him out of civilian life, you teach him to be a soldier, you train him to follow orders, you express to him the importance of following orders, and you train him to kill," the former sergeant maintained.
"After the My Lai operation and we returned to base camp, Captain Medina told us do not answer any questions from anyone, news reporters or anybody else, about this last mission," Hodges remembered. "Other units had experienced similar things, they had carried out similar operations. For some reason or another, it started off with a soldier sharing something with someone else who wasn't there. And, that person sharing it with someone else, who happened to be a friend of that guy. It sort of mushroomed from there and then someone decided that his conscience won't let him rest until justice was done," he added.
Charges of murder and rape were lodged and dismissed against Sgt. Hodges. Lt. William Calley, the platoon commander, was the only person found guilty in the action at My Lai. None of the field grade officers who planned the operation were ever charged. Despite the fact that he was cleared, the United States Army discharged Sgt. Kenneth Hodges from the service.
Kenneth Hodges desperately wanted to remain in the Army and serve his country. After he got out of the service, Kenneth lived in Columbus, Georgia for a couple of years. Those years were spent hoping against hope that the Army was going reinstate him and take him back in. With the help of a lawyer, Frank Martin over in Columbus, Hodges took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. "But, I lost out," the ten-year veteran looked back.
Hodges believes there is still a segment of society that Vietnam still rests on their minds. Not just the veterans, but people who are just ordinary citizens. "The full story, the incidents which led up to My Lai - a lot of people don't talk about them, because a lot of people don't know about them. As I relate the story to people, they say, "I didn't know all of that took place. I never heard that." Because, what happened before would shed a lot of light on why things went down like they did at My Lai."
THEY CALLED THEM THE DREGS OF SOCIETY
"With the things that I went through and after and during the trial, I was recommended for a general court martial. It did not go that far. During that period, it was pretty dark. "Public sentiment turned, it was already out there, Vietnam vets were baby killers and more or less dregs of society," Hodges expounded.
Hodges' unit was considered the best of the brigade in their training operations in Hawaii, so much so that they were the advance party to go over first. Hodges said, "Once the news came out a year and half later, even the army said we were undertrained and undereducated. Which was hardly the case. We had been undereducated. Some of them did have low IQs. But that was not our fault, they were drafted. If you have ever seen the movie Forrest Gump, I saw first hand "Forrest Gump."
Hodges was referring to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's 100,000 project, in which the military openly ignored intelligence test results in drafting and enlisting soldiers. "These soldiers were good soldiers because of the repetition in their training. Tthey could pick it up. And, because they were of a simple mind, following orders was something they understood," Hodges maintains. "So after their experiences in Vietnam, they had a hard time dealing with what they saw and what they experienced," the former sergeant added.
In general, Hodges felt that many in the country turned their backs on the Vietnam veteran. He recalled the story, "When the news broke about the things, the trial, my mother, who grew up teaching school in Laurens County and on the east side of the river, was shunned. None of her friends, or so called friends, even called and offered words of encouragement or words of consolation. But a woman whom she had never met, a white lady, called and said, 'I cooked a cake. I want you to put on a pot of coffee. I know you must be going through something now.'" It was those things that were "heartwarming, touching and uplifting" to Kenneth Hodges. Those were the exceptions, and not the rule.
One touching exception to that rule came during the holidays at the end of Hodges' first of his two tours of duty in Vietnam. Hodges was returning home when he was at the Atlanta Airport awaiting a layover flight to Macon before taking a taxi to Dublin to surprise his family, who didn't know he was coming home for the holidays. "While I was waiting for the plane to fly to Macon, I was browsing in one of the shops there and I came upon this one white couple and the lady greeted me. I was in uniform and we started talking. She said, 'Are you in the army?' Yes, I said. She said, 'Well, where have you just come from, where are you going?' I said, I am going home for the holidays. She said, 'Where are you coming from?' I said, from Vietnam," he recalled.
"A look of surprise came over her and she excitedly said, 'You are home from Vietnam?' I said, yes. She called her husband over and she said, 'Honey, this soldier returned from Vietnam and he is going to be home for Thanksgiving and for Christmas.' He looked me in the eye and with tears in his eyes said, 'Thank you for doing my part. I couldn't go. I have health problems. I was listed and categorized as F4 - unfit for military service. Thank you for doing my part.' He hugged me and his wife hugged me. That stands out as one of the high points of returning from Vietnam," he concluded. Hodges recalled that other than a welcome from his family, there were hardly any welcome homes or any thank yous.
The incident at My Lai is just a only a small part of the story of Kenneth Hodges. The story of Hodges, the veteran, does not end here. In fact, his story is just beginning. Read more in tomorrow's edition the story of Kenneth Hodges, a veteran's veteran.
RECOMMENDED END OF PART ONE
A NEW BEGINNING, A NEW MISSION
"One morning I woke up with a thought that I needed to find a new direction. I needed to make a new beginning," Kenneth said as felt that his new beginning should be back in Dublin and that he could turn his life around at home. He was drifting, going no where in a hurry, dealing with alcoholism and his problems with the military. Hodges saw his problems were not being corrected and were not going to be corrected in Columbus. In early 1975, Hodges made a fateful decision, packed his bags and came home to find his new beginning. All he had was his family, himself, and his faith in God.
Hodges never gave any thought to working at the VA until he met Grady Phillips. Phillips asked Hodges had he ever thought about working at the VA hospital. "That's when the light went on. I said, wow!. That's a great idea," Hodges fondly recalled.
He gives credit to those who stepped up for him and embraced him. One of them was E.B. Smith, the union president and a veteran. "He had no requirement to help me as I was a temporary employee. He was a caring individual," Hodges added. Bob Willis was another who came to assist Hodges in his quest to become a permanent employee. Willis went to the director, Harold Duncan, and pleaded with him to give Hodges a chance.
Willis declared, "I wish we had hundreds of employees like Kenneth." I was so impressed with him, I went to the Harold Duncan, the director, and plead his case for permanent employment. I told him that he wouldn't regret it. In my years at the VA, Kenneth did an outstanding job and we never had any complaints about the way he did his job. He is a fine man."
Hodges' application was bogging down in the bowels of the bureaucracy. In the first round of testing he received a very low score. He had completed high school, a year of college and trade school. Hodges, naturally frustrated at the endless delays asked a VA official, "What am I supposed to do to make a living, rob a bank? I can't get on at the VA. This is crazy!" Hodges grabbed some sheets of paper and wrote out his case. The official took them to the board and plead his case. With his veteran's preference, Hodges scored a 99 and got a permanent job in housekeeping.
Working early on in the kitchen, the laundry, Hodges kept looking for a more fulfilling position. In late 1977, a job was announced on the board for a motor vehicle operator. "The more I dug into it, the more I learned what motor vehicle operators do. They transport patients, veterans to other VA facilities, clinics and nursing homes. And these veterans come from our service area, which includes 59 counties surrounding Dublin. The idea came to my mind that this was a way to reach other veterans who may be experiencing similar problems." Hodges remarked. Not long after he got the job a Seventh Day Adventist minister, who worked in the laundry, kept telling Hodges, "That's your job. God has work for you to do in that job."
Hodges does the things he does for veterans because it gives him a sense of accomplishment. "It gives me a good feeling - a giving back to those who gave to me when I was coming along struggling. When I started at the VA, it was hard getting on permanently. I managed to get on to a temporary assignment, but getting a permanent assignment proved to be a challenge," he maintained.
Over the last thirty-three years, Hodges estimates that he has driven more than one million miles in transporting veterans. "I had veterans usually going to Augusta or Decatur, two to three hours. I had them and I had their attention. They couldn't get away. So they were trapped with me. I could talk to them. There were veterans who had similar problems to what I had, especially Vietnam veterans. Some of them were younger. Some of them were older. I saw that they were going through the same problems that I was going through with PTSD dealing with every day problems after you got back, still making adjustments from being in the war. It gave me a great opportunity. It still gives me a great opportunity, because now I am seeing younger veterans coming from Iraq and from Afghanistan. They are suffering from similar problems and I am able to share my experiences with them and what I learned about PTSD, and ways to deal with it and cope with it." he said.
Hodges counts the number of veterans which he has helped to be in the tens of thousands. "I am interacting with them in someway, talking with them about different things, different aspects of their lives - the things that they are going through. The assistance that I give some of them is just talk and advice - some of them, just a listening ear," he says.
During the period between 1982 to the early 1990s Hodges was on the road to Augusta everyday, sometimes twice a day and even three times in one day. " One Saturday, I had a scheduled transfer. When I got back from that one, I had an emergency. When I got back from that one, I had another emergency. The other two drivers were out sick, so I drove 600 miles within a twenty-four period in three trips to Augusta." he remarked.
Hodges also takes veterans to get their driver's licenses and IDs. Although his primary mission is to make sure the patients get transportation for medical treatment he finds a lot of guys coming in with their pockets empty. With no public transportation available, he makes sure that veterans can take care of their of the business during their stay at the VA Hospital. He took one man out to get a driver's license for his van. He got it even though he lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. "That really blew my mind. He is a Vietnam veteran. He lost both legs and an arm. I saw him in Atlanta and he was driving," he fondly recalled.
An old friend, whom Kenneth met at Fort Benning back in the early 70s, called him. He was crying. The friend had been receiving bad treatment from his co-workers. "He was on the verge of doing something foolish. He called me and said there was going to be homicide or a suicide. I don't know which," said Kenneth, who told his friend, "It sounds like PTSD has set in on you." This was in the early 90s, the mid 90s. Today he is on the road to receiving the help that he needs and getting the counseling he needs for the PTSD as well as other physical problems.
GIVE AND YE SHALL RECEIVE
Time and time again in his life, Kenneth Hodges has seen that giving back to others brings blessings back to the giver ten fold. He does good deeds not for any hope of reward nor recognition. Not one to blow his own horn, Hodges related the story of a veteran who had been sleeping under a bridge for two months and drinking whenever he could. After deciding that the vet wanted to come in and get cleaned up, Hodges transported him from Augusta to Dublin to be admitted to the detox ward. "The clothes that he had a stench in them - you could hardly stand it riding in the van. When I got back to Dublin, I took all of his clothes, everything that he had, which was in two large plastic bags. I took it home and washed them, dried them, and returned them to him fresh," he recalled.
Hodges realizes that there are many people around town who don't seek or want recognition for the acts of charity and kindness. He tells the story of a young lady who worked at the VA. Her estranged boyfriend slashed all of her tires. Her fellow employees raised $270.00 to help her buy new tires. Kenneth picked up the phone and phoned a friend, who was a local tire dealer. He told the man of the lady's predicament. The dealer said, "Kenneth, as I have always told you if you need anything call me." Hodges told the dealer what had happened. He said, "You've got $270?" Hodges said, "yes." The dealer said, "Let me call you back in five minutes." "He called me in three," Hodges said. The tire shop owner asked, "You've got $270 and you want these tires mounted and balanced?" Hodges told the man, "I know it is a tall request," to which the dealer responded, "The cheapest tire I have got is $325 for the set and that doesn't include mounting and balancing, but bring me that $270."
That tire dealer, as you may have guessed by now, was Hodges' fellow good deed doer, Scott Beasley of Duncan Tire Company. When asked about Kenneth Hodges, Beasley smiled excitedly and said, " You mean Kenneth Hodges, he is Dublin's hero! Beasley declared, "Kenneth Hodges has a heart as big as the helmet that the soldier's wear." Beasley remembered watching the American Experience documentary on My Lai when all of sudden he recognized his old friend. He exclaimed, "That's Kenneth!," as his heart swelled with pride and admiration.
Hodges remembered meeting a couple in Augusta while waiting to return a patient home. He had known them in the years in which they ran a variety store on I-16 in Dublin. The man was suffering from an aneurism. The lady was recovering from cancer. While the couple were in Augusta, they had a flat tire. The lady was trying to call for a mechanic to come and change or repair their tire. That's when Kenneth Hodges stepped in.
The man told his wife to hang up the phone and that help was on the way. Puzzled, the lady responded, "They are here already here? I didn't get a chance to talk." The man said, "No, Kenneth is here to change the tire." Kenneth refused the lady's financial reward. When Hodges got back to Dublin, the couple had already called his supervisor, Freddie Smith. Smith told the chief, who within a matter of days, presented a "Caring Award" to Hodges. He had a choice between a meal for four at a Macon restaurant or a fifty-dollar savings bond. Hodges laughed, "I said, "I know how to cook, give me the savings bond!".
The list of good deeds goes on and on. There too many to list and too many which have never been told nor were expected to be known or publicly appreciated outside of those who received his generous aid.
Kenneth Hodges's story of service to his country continues in tomorrow's edition.
RECOMMENDED END OF PART TWO
THE SWEET TASTE IS STILL THERE
Kenneth Hodges has been serving our country for more than two thirds of his sixty six years. And, he has no plans to stop any time soon. He has no goal of fifty or fifty-five years. "I tell folks when they question me about my retirement. It's like a piece of gum that you stick in your mouth, the sweet taste is still there," Hodges said.
On almost every morning, Kenneth Hodges stills looks forward to getting up and going to work, facing new challenges and meeting new people, talking to them and sharing his experiences, and trying to shed some light on how they can better themselves. He unequivocally stated, "There are lot more opportunities now for the Afghanistan and Iraqi veterans than there were for the Vietnam veterans."
Kenneth Hodges relishes in doing what he can to carry out the programs that the VA has as well as his own program of assisting the veterans and encouraging them by giving them the courage to continue on with what they are doing. Hodges insists that the veterans whom he meets continue to get an education. He challenges them not to give up on their dreams. "If they have something they want to do, pursue it," Hodges declared.
"They are more warmly received. And, that does not bother me. Some people have problems dealing with that, but that was another time and another place," Hodges commented on how he and other Vietnam vets were treated four decades ago.
From time to time, Kenneth Hodges interacts with female veterans. Some of them have dependence problems, and sadly some of the women are homeless. To the young veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, Hodges encourages them to seek a higher power. "If you don't want to call it God, seek a higher power, like an AA commitment," he tells young veterans. He shares with them his own guidance from God in overcoming his problems. "I looked to God for my guidance and to get to me through it," Hodges asserted.
There were no parades, no ceremonies, not hardly a single celebration when Kenneth Hodges and other Vietnam veterans came home to the United States. But, it is not too late to welcome those who served. Hodges, himself now finds himself instinctively thanking the Vietnam veterans he meets for their service to our country.
Just five years ago, Hodges, wearing a cap indicating the he was a veteran of the Vietnam War, was at a convenience store gassing up his vehicle. He noticed a young veteran in his late twenties. The young man walked directly toward him and looked him straight in the eye. He stuck out his hand and said, "Thank you for your service to our country and welcome home." Hodges said, "I was shocked at his actions, and I said what did you say? I had to hear it again." The young man repeated, "Thank you for your service to our country. Welcome home, Vietnam veterans didn't get a lot of that" Hodges was so touched that he began to cry.
When he meets a Vietnam veteran because of his insignia on his cap or what he is wearing which sets him apart, Hodges will greet him, "I don't have to know him. I will just walk up to him and extend my hand, shake his hand, and welcome him home and thank him for his service to his country," he maintains as most of them have the same reaction that he did.
Hodges says that the citizens of our community can help veterans who are now returning by embracing them and welcoming them home. "Give them some support and listen to them. Some of them are reluctant to share their stories," he says. As for himself, sharing his story is therapy. He feels that so many people are in the dark as far as the Vietnam veteran, what he is and who he is. "We are a cross section of society of that period. We are no more and we are no less than the others are. It's just that we served in an unpopular war. And, when it was over, there was not a win involved. We sort of tucked our tails between our legs and walked off," he concluded.
A BAD MOVIE
Kenneth Hodges has fought many fights in his life. And, like his second-cousin, six-time world champion boxer "Sugar Ray" Robinson, he has won most of them. In commenting on his struggles and the triumph of his faith, Hodges says, "Sometimes life is like a bad movie. You keep on watching it and hope it will turn out good."
Kenneth Hodges never really liked bad endings. His sister, Frenchy Hodges, remembered the days of their youth when they and their siblings, Marva, Larue, and Joe Richard, Jr., were working in the fields along side their farmer father, Joe Richard Hodges, Sr. Frenchy, a nationally recognized poetess and story teller, often made up stories, some of which had sad endings. "Kenneth has always been a sensitive and caring man," said Ms. Hodges. "When he began to cry after hearing my stories, I would say, 'No, the story really doesn't end that way," and I would change the story to add a happy ending to cheer him up," Hodges happily recalled.
Many years ago Hodges learned that words can hurt and words can heal. "A lot of times you don't know the impact of what you do or what you say will have on some people. Sometimes you'll never know," he says. He was reminded about a story of a professor who assigned his psychology students the task of telling someone what they meant to them. As he rushed through his own busy schedule, the professor forgot that he himself was supposed to complete the assignment. He went to his son's room and told him just how much he appreciated what his son had done to help around the house and how proud of him he was for his good grades and how much he loved him. The boy began to sob uncontrollably. When asked what was wrong, the son said, "Dad, I didn't think you had even noticed me period, or even noticed what I did around the house. I didn't think you even noticed my grades or anything I did in school. That was why tomorrow morning, I planned to kill myself."
That story got Kenneth to thinking that sometimes you say things that are ugly or hurting to people that you want to strike out. And, they can really hurt people. It made him think the angry and bitter words should stop coming out of his mouth.
There was a period there when he could pass it out freely, especially if you crossed his path. "I tell the guys sometimes that I used to be a revolving SOB and I loved it," Hodges admits. One guy said, "What is a revolving SOB?" Hodges said, "Any way that I turned, I was one. It was nothing that I was proud of." After Vietnam, Hodges didn't realize what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was. "It manifests itself in people's minds. One of the effects is anger and not necessarily at anyone or anybody. Just anger. But since I have been at the VA, I have met a half dozen people who have shared their stories about anger," he said.
After listening to veterans, Hodges realized that he too had some of that anger. "I realized that the angrier you get, the more excited and the more you like it. And, that is dangerous. That's a part of that transformation. I turned it around. I said, no, no, you don't want to go back there," he recollected.
Kenneth Hodges gives all the credit for turning his life around to God. "The Master, the man upstairs. He showed it to me and let me see it vividly, vividly. I said, no, no, I don't want to go back there." He urges all veterans to get help from the VA. He shares his story of overcoming turmoil in his life through his faith in God and his God-given love he has for his fellow veterans.
And today, you'll still find Kenneth Hodges after almost a half century of serving his country, still serving the country and the veterans whom he never turned his back on. While not working at the VA on or the road, you may find him at home, doing what he loves to do, cooking a delicious meal and enjoying life with this wife Margaret. Sometimes he closes his eyes and watches himself starring in a bad biographical movie which is now showing the good parts. And, it looks like there will be a wonderful and oh so happy ending.
Welcome home, Sergeant Kenneth Hodges! Thank you for your service to our country.
ESTHER GORDY EDWARDS
The Mother of Motown
She has been called the "Mother of Motown." You may know of her brother, Barry Gordy, Jr., the founder of the Motown sound - the sounds of the Sixties and Seventies that we all danced to and sung, sometimes like no one else was watching or listening. Esther Gordy Edwards, a native of Washington County, Georgia, was the behind-the-scenes driving force behind one of the most successful record companies in history and a mother and mentor to several iconic American musical legends. She died this past summer at the age of ninety-one. This is her story.
Esther Gordy Edwards was born on the 25th day of April in the year 1920. Her parents Berry Gordy, Sr. and Bertha Fuller Gordy lived in Oconee, Georgia in southwestern Washington County. Esther, the couple's second child and eldest daughter, left home with her family when she about two years old. Their destination, Detroit, Michigan, was a place where good paying jobs could be found as the southern cotton crop was baking in the dry fields or being devoured by the pesky boll weevil.
Esther attended Detroit's prestigious Cass Technical High School, which boasts scores of successful graduates including Diana Ross, Lily Tomlin, and Della Reese. Esther continued her education at Wayne State and Howard University. Along with two of her brothers, Esther Gordy founded the Gordy Printing Company in 1947.
In 1951 at the age of thirty-one, Miss Gordy married George Edwards. Edwards served as a Michigan state representative.
The Gordy siblings designed a way to make things easier for the family when one sibling needed help. They formed a cooperative of sorts. Each sibling would periodically deposit a small sum into a family savings account. All siblings were required to approve loans to the others.
Berry Gordy, Jr. had a dream. He wanted to start a record company. He asked his brothers and sisters for the $800.00 he needed to buy a house and open a studio. Esther initially said no to the request. She finally agreed.
"I knew right then, if I ever made money, she would be the one I'd get to watch it for me," Gordy later wrote. So, the enterprising entrepreneur asked Esther to help him with the company, which he named, Motown.
As the company's comptroller, it was Esther's job to manage the business affairs of the burgeoning company. It wasn't long before her role in the company expanded. Mrs. Edwards developed close personal relationships with many of the singers. Her personal skills and business savvy were critical to the successes of many of Motown's most successful and popular recording artists.
Esther Gordy Edwards did more than watch his money. When the artists went out on the road or had difficulty in dealing with their new found and meteoric fame, Esther was there by their sides to lend an ear and give wise and trusted advice. She mothered and mentored singers and musicians and hired people who helped polish and develop their talents
Edwards took a personal role as a advisor of the Marvellettes, whose first song, Please Mr. Postman, rocketed to the top of the Hot 100 and R&B charts. Perhaps her most famous pupil and ward was a young teenager, Stevland Judkins, who over the last four decades became an American musical legend under his stage name, Stevie Wonder. Wonder, in a statement issued after her death, said, "She believed in me - when I was 14 years old and many other people didn't or could only see what they could at the time, she championed me being in Motown. I shared with her many of my songs first before anyone else."
Esther Edwards' business activities extended beyond the music business. She served on the board of directors of the Detroit Bank of the Commonwealth and was the first woman chosen to serve on the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce.
Esther remained in the forefront of the management of Motown as the company's corporate secretary, director of international operations, vice-president and chief executive officer until 1972, when she was replaced by singing legend, Smokey Robinson. When her brother and the business moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, Esther Edwards remained in Detroit. Eventually she turned the original studio building into Hitsville, USA, a museum to honor the lasting contribution of the studio, its founder, and its artists to American musical history.
Esther Edwards, a persistent conservator of Motown memorabilia, began preserving pieces of the company's rich heritage. "She preserved Motown memorabilia before it was memorabilia, collecting our history long before we knew we were making it," Berry Gordy said. He sung her praises by turning the "trash" they left behind when the company moved west into a lasting reminder of the company's rich musical heritage.
Esther Gordy Edwards passed away on August 24, 2011 in the presence of her family. In speaking of her life, her brother Berry said, "Whatever she did, it was with the highest standards, professionalism, and an attention to detail that was legendary. He praised his sister for not being concerned with being popular, but being dedicated to making everyone in the Gordy family and Motown better.
So now you know a little bit about the story which proves the old adage "that behind every successful man is a wise woman. That old saying has never been more true than the story of Esther Gordy Edwards, the little girl from Washington County, who grew up to be a mentor in the history of American music.