Tuesday, November 18, 2014
SOARING TO NEW HEIGHTS
Some 85 to 90 years ago, three young Laurens County boys played in the cotton fields and stared into the sky as their parents and the older members of their families picked cotton and other crops from the field.
Hardly any of them had ever seen an airplane in their young and isolated lives. In the next two decades, each of them would not only learn what an airplane was, they would learn to fly some of the fastest airplanes in the U.S. Air Force.
Each of these three men took separate career paths. One flew bomber planes, another fighter planes, and the last one flew jet planes higher and faster than few people had eve flown before.
On Veteran’s Day, the State of Georgia will honor these three men by naming the intersection of U.S. Highway 80 West and the U.S. Highway 441 By-pass as the Herndon Cummings, Marion Rodgers, John Whitehead Tuskegee Airmen Interchange.
The legislation was sponsored by Representatives Matt Hatchett, Bubber Epps and Jimmy Pruett at the request of Laurens County Commissioner, Buddy Adams, who has been the driving force in honoring veterans in Laurens County since his election to office in 2008. Adams proposed legislation to name the two legs of the by-pass for Lt. Kelso Horne, the cover man of Life magazine’s first D-Day issue and Lt. Col. Clyde Stinson, who was awarded two Silver Stars for heroism and was one of the highest ranking officers killed in actual combat in Vietnam.
Of the estimated one thousand men who bore the title of a “Tuskegee Airmen,” three of these remarkable aviators can call Laurens County, Georgia home.
One, Major Herndon Cummings, was a native of Laurens County, while two others, Col. John Whitehead and Col. Marion Rodgers spent portions of their childhood living in Laurens County. The legacy of these three men lived well beyond their years as a separate unit of the United States Army Air Force. Laurens County’s three Tuskegee Airmen went on to remarkable achievements in aviation for decades beyond their service during World War II.
Herndon Cummings was born on April 25, 1919 in the Burgamy District of Laurens County, Georgia. The son of Joseph and Mollie Hill Cummings, Don’s interest in aviation was sparked on Christmas Day in 1928 when his father gave him a toy German zeppelin. His interest in flying was forever sealed in 1936 when Don and his brother took a five-dollar ride in a Ford Tri-Motor plane. As the plane soared in the skies west of Dublin, Don underwent a life-altering experience. "By the time the plane landed, I knew what I wanted to do," he recalled.
Cummings enlisted in the Air Corps on June 25, 1942. He trained in the B-25 bomber at Tuskegee and later at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio, where he would later make his home. Of the nine hundred to a thousand men who successfully completed their training at Tuskegee, most trained as fighter pilots in the P-51 fighter and other fighters.
Lt. Cummings was assigned to the 477th Bomber Group, which was based at Selfridge Army Air Field, Michigan in 1944. Many of the members of the group were commanded by white officers, who according to some, favored white officers over the black officers. Concerns over racial troubles in Detroit forced the group to move to Godman Field near Fort Knox, Kentucky. By March 1945, the 477th was uprooted again and moved to Freemen Army Field at Seymour, Indiana.
The field at Freeman maintained two clubs, one for supervisors and one for trainees, but were defacto separated between blacks and whites. In the early days of April 1945, the relationships between the commanding officers and the black pilots began to deteriorate rapidly. On April 9, 1945, the day of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, more than 100 of the airmen were arrested and placed in jail for twelve days until they were released by order of new President, Harry S. Truman.
Just weeks after they were freed, Lt. Cummings was promoted to captain to command a bomber. After completing his four-year stint in the Army Air Corps, Cummings served in the Air Force Reserve and attained the rank of major before retiring after twenty years of service.
Cummings earned a commercial pilot's license, but never utilized it because there were virtually no opportunities for employment of black pilots. He went to work laying bricks in order to support his family and send his two daughters to college.
In one of his last official reunions with his fellow Tuskegee airmen, Major Cummings was invited to sit on the stage during the inauguration of President Barack Obama. He died some six months later on July 2, 2009.
Marion Rodgers was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 23, 1921 and raised to about age eight in Dublin, Georgia until his family moved to New York. Rodgers grew interested in aviation when a man in the neighborhoold began to restore a damaged bi-plane. From that point forward, Rodgers would spend his free time going to airports watching plans take off and land.
Not immediately accepted into flight school at Tuskegee, Alabama, Rodgers was first assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery unit and the served a short term as a radio operator. Eventually, Marion was accepted into flight school at Keesler Field. In May 1943, I'm sent to Pre-Flight Training at Tuskegee Army Air Field.
Rodgers trained at Moten Field before returning to Tuskegee where he flew the Vultee BT-131 for the requisite 80 flight hours. Promoted to the much more powerful AT-6, Marion earned his 2nd Lieutenant wings.
After flying the P-40, P-39 and P-47, Marion was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, the famous unit eternally known as the “Red Tails.” In 69 combat missions Lt. Rodgers flew 370 hours as am escort for B-17s and B-24s.
After the war, Rodgers was eventually promoted to command the 99th Fighter Squadron “The Red Tails” at Lockbourne Air Base. In 1948, the Air Force was integrated under orders from President Harry S. Truman. Col. Rodgers, a twenty-two-year veteran of the Air Force and a 17-year Civil Service worker, spent one year working for N.A.S.A. as a program manager on the mission of Apollo 13. In technical circles, Rodgers was prominent in the development of electronics and communications procedures with N.O.R.A.D..
After his retirement in 1983, Rodgers became known for his exceedingly kind contributions of his time to public organizations in his home town. He also attended as many events honoring the Tuskegee Airmen whenever and wherever he could. In his spare time, Rodgers spent many fun times with his wife Suzanne and engaging in his favorite hobby as an amateur radio operator.
Just a few weeks ago, Rodgers, 93 years old, was treated to one more flight in a P-51 over Camarillo, California. The flight in the fighter plane which turned the tide of the air war in Europe came nearly seventy years after his first flight.
Col. John Whitehead, known to his fellow pilots as “Mr. Death,” was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia in 1924. Like Col. Rodgers, Whitehead spent several of the years of his youth in Laurens County. Lt. Whitehead flew several missions over Europe in World War II.
Col. Whitehead was the Air Force’s first African-American test pilot. Many of his hours in the air came while he was a pilot instructor for the Air Force in the 1950s. A former President of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., Whitehead was given his nickname, not because he cheated death on many times, but because of his gaunt looking face, supposedly resembling that of a skull.
In his 30-year career, Col. Whitehead spent more than 9,500 hours in the air, with some 5000 of them coming in jet aircraft. In January 1951, Whitehead was featured on the cover of Ebony magazine.
After serving as a pilot in Vietnam and retiring from the military, Whitehead served as an instructor and Air Force Liaison at Boeing and Northrop Aircraft.
Whitehead was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters and numerous other citations and medals. He was a man of firsts, the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Experimental Test Pilots School, the first African American to fly the B-47 bomber and the first African American to serve as an instructor of jet pilots.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Today, Jeralean Kurtz Talley turns 115 years old. Mrs. Talley, a native of Montrose, Georgia, holds on to her official title as the oldest living person in the United States and the oldest living person outside the country of Japan.
Mrs. Talley was born on May 23, 1899 to Samuel James Kurtz and Amelia Kurtz. William McKinley was President of the United States. On May 23, 2014, some nineteen presidents, fourteen hundred plus full moons and 41,725 sunsets later, Ms. Jeralean reaches yet another milestone in the time line of her longest life.
Jeralean, who was among a dozen children of Samuel and Amelia Jones Kurtz, grew up in the outskirts of Montrose, Georgia in western Laurens County, Georgia. Her grandfather, Andrew J. Kurtz, husband of Rachel Kurtz, was most likely a slave owned by Dr. William J. Kurtz, who owned nearly two dozen slaves during the Civil War.
Jeralean and her family moved to Inkster, Wayne County, Michigan during a vast migration of African-American farm workers who left Laurens County in the 1920s for Detroit, Michigan. That group includes the family of world champion boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson and Ford Motor Company inventor and innovator, Claude Harvard.
Jeralean married Alfred Talley, who died in the 1980s. Although she was from large family, Jeralean had only one child, a daughter, Thelma Holloway, who is now seventy-five years old. She has three grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
As for Talley, she credits her God for her longevity. When asked by Congressman John Conyers as to what her secret to a long life was, she pointed upward and said, "The good Lord up above. If it wasn't for Him, none of us would be here."
Talley was almost 107 before she moved out of her home and into her daughter's home. She gave up bowling when she was a mere 104. And, she scored a very respectable 200 in her last game.
With 115 years behind her Jeralean has many stories to tell. One of her favorites is the tale of her first and only attempt to drive a car.
"I tried that one time," in her 30s, she said.
"I didn't hit the right one to make it go forward and it went backwards," Talley told Elisha Anderson of The Detroit Free Press.
When her husband Alfred yelled at her, she opened the door and got out of the car and never drove again.
A verified supercentenarian is a person who is at least 110 years old and whose age is documented by at three or more reliable documents as determined by an international body - the most respected organization being the Gerontology Research Group.
The world's oldest verified person ever was a French woman Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122 years, 164 days. Today, the oldest living person is a Japanese woman, Misao Okawa, who is 14 and one half months older than Talley. As of today, Jeralean Talley stands as the 31st oldest verified living person since 1955 and is poised to move into 25th place within nine weeks. If Talley lives until July 18 of next year, she will be the 10th oldest verified person since 1955. Verification before 1955 was often difficult because of unreliable or non-existent birth records. .
Happy Birthday Ms. Jeralean!
A Rarity in a Violent South
Lynching was a horrible and unforgivable part of our past from the Civil War until the end of World War II. In deciding whether not to write about the subject, I decided by not writing and ignoring what went on is worse than bringing up tortuous memories. While lynching was not as rampant as some have led us to believe, the number of documented cases of lynching in Laurens County is amazingly very low. In only three cases were Laurens County men lynched by Laurens County vigilantes. In one case, the victim was hung by men of both races. In one of the rarest cases of lynching ever reported, the victim survived the lynching. In three other cases, the victims were executed by outside perpetrators.
Henry Burney was charged with the robbery of Dublin merchant J.M. Reinhart. Having been found innocent of the charges brought against their client, Burney's lawyers sought to charge the prosecuting party with false imprisonment. A mob of forty-two men took Burney from the jail, led him out of town, beat him with fence rails and sticks and stabbed him repeatedly. The lynchers asked Burney if he knew the way out of town. Burney nodded in the affirmative. He was given two days to leave and never came back. Burney traveled to Oconee, Georgia, where he exhibited knife wounds on his face and the rope used to lead him out of town.
On or about May 23, 1894 Gus Thompson, a Negro, was caught in the bed room of a Mrs. W.E. Couey, who lived about 15 miles from Dublin. Mrs. Couey told law enforcement officials that she had retired to her bedroom when she felt a hand on her bed. She screamed and the person sprang through the window and escaped. Mrs. Couey alarmed her neighbors of the purported crime. After an all night torch light search and a nearly day long hunt, Thompson was arrested and charged with trespassing in a house with the intention of committing a rape or other sexual offense.
Following Thompson's admission that he was in the house, but not for the purpose that he was being charged with, the Justice of the Peace committed Thompson to the county jail after a brief commitment hearing. About midnight on the morning of June 3, 1894, without any disturbance or alarm, a band of twenty masked men approached the jail. Three men entered the jail under the pretense of bringing in a prisoner. When jailer J.M. Raffield came to the door, the trio struck him on the head, bound his hands and gagged his mouth. His son-in-law, J.M. Kelly escaped through a window in the jail and tried to alarm the town. The lynchers bound and gagged a kicking and screaming Thompson and took him from the jail. Thompson's dead body was found later in the morning about ten feet from the roadside, bounded to a small tree with approximately twenty bullet holes in his head and chest. There was some speculation by reporters that the lynching would have occurred earlier had Mr. Couey been in town at the time of the alleged crime.
In the most documented case of an apparent lynching, Andrew Green was killed by a mob composed of black and white men near Govett, Georgia on August 22, 1897. Andrew Green and his wife were having marital difficulties to say the least. It was said that they had lived "as a man and wife should" though he forbade Mrs. Green from coming to town. On Sunday evening, in direct disobedience to Green's commands, Mrs. Green traveled three miles from their home near Garbutt’s Mills to Lovett, Georgia. Finding that his wife was not a home, Green set out to ascertain her whereabouts. Upon his arrival at the Lovett depot, Green found his wife sitting on a pile of railroad cross ties and engaged in a conversation with a Negro couple. Mystifyingly enraged, Green drew his .44 caliber Colt pistol and fired three times in the direction of his wife. All three shots missed his intended target, though two of the shots struck and wounded Mrs. John George, who was sitting with her husband talking to Mrs. Green. Thinking that he had killed his wife, Green bolted into his mule driven cart and attempted to flee the scene.
Enter George Heath, a prominent Lovett merchant, husband and father of four. Realizing the depravity of the event which occurred before his eyes, Heath ran after Green, who was violently whipping his mule to sprint. Green drew his pistol again and fired at Heath, who was just a few feet away. The fatal shot struck Heath between his eyes. Heath slumped onto the tracks, just as the Wrightsville and Tennille passenger train was pulling into the station. The train engineers slammed on the brakes in order to avoid running over Heath's perishing body. News of the tragedy spread like a wild fire throughout the town. John George, husband of Green's first victim, joined a hastily formed posse composed of both black and white citizens.
Approximately fifty well armed and mounted men set out to the east toward Garbutt’s Mills in hot pursuit. An exhausted and justly terrified Green was captured in short order by his pursuers. In a matter of minutes, the murder of George Heath and the wounding of Mrs. George was avenged. Green's body was riddled with Winchester rifle bullets and pistol balls.
A series of fires galvanized the Caldwell area on August 26, 1919. Three Negro churches and a Negro lodge were simultaneously burned by a organized group of arsonists. There was a rumor circulating that the Negroes of the area were going to "start some kind of trouble" in the area. The normally quiet community in lower southwestern Laurens County was thrown into an uproar. Several white citizens made immediate announcements to help the citizens rebuild their buildings.
In the sixth lynching in the triangle between Eastman, Caldwell and Yonkers, Eli Cooper was shot and incinerated by a mob of unknown origin and size. It was alleged that Cooper had been talking in a manner offensive to the white people of the area. The source of the remarks appear to have come from a Chicago newspaper, which had been circulating among the Negroes of the community. It was rumored that the Negroes of Caldwell would stage an uprising within the next thirty days. Cooper reportedly said, "the Negroes have been run over for fifty years, but this will all change in thirty days." The lynching occurred twenty-three days after an unidentified Negro was lynched in Beckley County for similar utterances.
Eli Cooper was taken by fifteen to twenty men from his Laurens County home which was located two or three miles from Caldwell. As many as fifty bullets riddled Cooper's body, which was thrown into the flames which were engulfing Pathway's Gift Church sometime between one and two o'clock of the morning of August 28, 1919. When the smoke cleared, it was determined that Cooper's body was found among the ashes of the church, which had been given to the Negro people of the community by A.P. Pathway, whose plantation was located along the W&T Railroad between Caldwell and Plainfield. Dodge County Sheriff C.N. Mullis, Judge Joel F. Coleman, Dewey Mullis and John L. Crave visited the scene of the regrettable event. Sheriff Mullis was convinced that the lynchers were not from his county and promised to make an effort to determine the identity of the perpetrators. Eighty five years after the lynching, octogenarian residents of Caldwell were interviewed about what had happened. While some residents did not remember the story at all, others recalled that Cooper was lynched for making a pass at a white woman or actually raping the woman.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
The Scottsville section of Dublin is located in the northeastern section of the city. Named for a Rev. Darling, or Nathan, Scott, an early resident of the area and founding pastor of Scottsville Baptist Church, Scottsville is generally bounded on the southeast by East Gaines Street, southwest by North Decatur Street, northwest by East Mary Street and northeast by the Oconee River swamp. The area first began to develop in 1898 when the Dublin Furniture Manufacturing Company establish a factory on the corner of Ohio and Georgia Streets. Several cottages and a boarding house were constructed along with a factory building. The company, headed by J.M. Simmons and several of Dublin's leading businessmen, specialized in medium-priced bedroom suites. The location was chosen because of its proximity to the Oconee River. Lumber was transported by river which lies within a half-mile of the factory. The choice of the location turned out to be a poor one. The waters of the Oconee flooded the area when the river was high. The owners of the factory subdivided the surrounding lands into tiny lots to accommodate "shot gun" style houses for factory workers. After the factory went out of business about 1907, the factory and its out buildings were abandoned.
In 1909, R.A. Carter, A.J. Cobb, and Lee O'Neal, all from the Atlanta area, purchased thirty acres of land which included the former Dublin Furniture Factory on Ohio Street. They sold one block of the land to L.H. Holsey, G.L. Ward, J.H. White, P.W. Wesley, R.A. Carter, A.J. Cobb, Lee O'Neal, W.T. Moore, E. Horne, and C.L. Bonner as Trustees for the Harriett Holsey Industrial School. The school provided education in agriculture, domestic science, and other technical skills and was open to all of the Negroes of Laurens County. The school became known as the Harriet Holsey Industrial School, in honor of the wife of Bishop Lucius Holsey of the C.M.E. Church. Today the city maintains a small park on the site of the school. Throughout the mid-20th Century, M&M Packing Company maintained a slaughterhouse and abattoir on the site. Today Roche Manufacturing Company maintains a cotton gin on the fringe of the old college campus.
The subdivision around the homes was renamed Holsey Park. Streets in the subdivision were named after some of the United States. The northern part of Scottsville was owned by Mary Wolfe and called North Dublin. New streets in the southern part of Scottsville were named for several American states, including Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and California, the latter of which was never apparently opened. Northern streets in Scottsville were named for Republican presidents and in one case an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, James G. Blaine. Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, James Garfield, William McKinley and Ulysses S. Grant had streets named in their honor.
The heart of the Scottsville community was on North Decatur Street where it takes a jog to the left. Located at that spot was the Second African Baptist Church, the city cemetery and most likely Scottsville School. The Second African Baptist Church was founded in 1900 as the Scottsville Baptist Church The original sanctuary building was donated to the members of the church by members of the First Baptist Church who completed their present church building in 1907. The cornerstone of the church was laid on November 22, 1908 by Pastor B.J. Parker and J.L. Cullens and J. Glenn as Trustees along with the Board of Deacons, which was composed of W.H. Hall, L. Lewis, J. Smith, L. Labinyard, A. Askew and V.B. Rozier. It was used until May 1, 1934, when it burned. A second wooden church was dedicated on November 11, 1934 under the pastorate of Rev. C.H. Harris and is still in use, but covered now by bricks. A second Scottsville church is was established as a Church of God in Christ in 1924 at 410 Alabama St.. It later became Fields Temple Church of God in Christ and finally Zion Hope Baptist Church in the late 1950s. A third church, Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church was established at 806 N. Decatur Street in the 1920s.
The city of Dublin maintained a school at 709 N. Decatur Street across the street from the church. In 1909, the school was staffed by Principal E.L. Hall, First Assistant Pearl Simmons and Second Assistant E.B. Caldwell. In 1926 Decatur Street school was located in the building that later became a missionary hall for Scottsville Baptist Church. The school burned and its students were sent to Washington Street School.
Across the street from Second Baptist Church is Dublin's first cemetery for blacks. Although the city purchased twelve acres of land in 1906 for a cemetery (Cross The Creek Cemetery) on the northern banks of Hunger and Hardship Creek, the city cemetery was used for burials into the 1930s. Among the more famous persons to be buried in the cemetery were Rev. Norman McCall, a well known and revered minister of First African Baptist Church, and his wife, along with Susie Dasher, a dedicated teacher, who is the only person in Dublin to ever have a school named for them. Though there are less than two dozen marked graves in the cemetery today, a 1936 obituary stated that the cemetery contained the remains of "hundreds of Dublin's finest Negroes."
H.H. Dudley established a cemetery at the northern margin of Scottsville in the 1920s. Dudley's land was also used as a ball field for the Dublin Athletics, a highly successful semi-pro Negro League team, which included Herbert Barnhill and Jimmie Reese, both of whom eventually made it into the Negro Leagues.
Among Scottsville's most prominent residents was Dr. Benjamin Daniel Perry. Dr. Perry, a graduate of Meharry Medical College, was one of the city's first black physicians. Perry was an educator, as well, and was prominent in the promotion of educational endeavors and a promoter of Colored Fairs for three decades.
Though most signs of their existence are now gone, Scottsville was filled with small business such as groceries, dry goods stores, cafes and laundries. Among the earliest businesses were Mattie Tinsley's grocery at 508 Alabama St. and M.H. Hall's grocery at 506 E. Mary St. in 1926. Milo and Elizabeth Castleberry established a grocery and café at 501 N. Decatur in the 1930s. Pearl Carroll operated a grocery on Ohio Street in the late 1930s. In the late 1940s, Mattie Miller and Wilson Coley operated general merchandise stores in Scottsville. Minnie Stinson opened her grocery on Alabama St. about the same time. The The new café in the area in the post World War II era was the Green Pastures at 401 Alabama St..
The Scottsville neighborhood businesses were at their peak in the 1950s. Mattie Mitchell operated a luncheon room at 403 Alabama St.. Down the street at 508 and 514 Alabama St. were the groceries of Mattie Miller and Doretha Miller. May and George Bell operated still another grocery store at 508 Georgia St.. Robert Trawick and his family operated a laundry and cleaners at 517 Alabama Street for several decades, sometimes operating under the name East Side Cleaners. In the mid 50s, Wiliam Redick opened another cleaning establishment at 507 Alabama St.. Rosa Moore operated a grocery at 700 N. Decatur for several years as did Susie Mallard at 319 McKinley St.. and James M. Jackson at 506 Ohio St.. In the late 1950s, Ervin and Idearest Jones took over the operation of the former Castleberry's place on North Decatur. Amos Parks opened still another grocery at 1008 Ohio in the latter part of the decade. Ruth May operated a grocery at 414 E. Mary St at its intersection with N. Decatur Street for many years in the 1960s and 70s.
Friday, February 28, 2014
"The Black Boxcar"
In this corner from Cochran, Georgia, Obie Walker! He was big. He was strong. He jabbed his opponents with machine gun like speed. Obie Walker thought he could whip every boxer in the world. But, the Georgia Goliath never got the chance to fight the world champions Max Baer or Joe Louis. This is the story of a local man, who once reigned as the Prince of boxing in Europe and among his race, was considered a world champion.
Obie Diah Walker was born in Bleckley County, Georgia on September 19, 1911. Before the age of nine, Obie was living with his maternal grandparents, Frank and Elizabeth Powell of the Frazier community.
Obie moved to Atlanta as a way to increase his chances for success as a boxer. His first of 100 professional fights took place some eighty five years ago on February 16, 1929 against "Battling Connell" in the Auditorium in Atlanta, Georgia. The hometown fighter had little trouble against Connell, who lost all three of his career professional fights, two of them to the Brute from Bleckley.
Walker won four straight bouts, some people say eighteen, until his first loss on points to Happy Hunter on February 3, 1930.
The "Black Boxcar," built like a bank safe," would not lose again in thirty fights (28-0-2) until he lost a close decision on points to Don "Red" Barry at the Arena in Philadelphia. His last win in America came against George Godfrey, to capture the title of the Colored Heavyweight Champion.
That is when Walker's manager Jefferson Davis Dickson made the decision to take his fighter, with a record of 32-2-2, to take on the best fighters in Europe. Some say that Walker had fought at least sixty other undocumented bouts with colored fighters in addition to his three dozen professional fights.
The first European fight came in Sallewagram in Paris, France. Walker knocked out Belgian giant Louis Verbeeren in the last round of a ten-round match on Groundhog Day in 1934. Fighting primarily in French and Swiss arenas, Walker knocked out all of his first nine opponents. Only one of the ko's came after the third round. After losing two of his next three matches, Obie, trained by former Argentine champion Norman Tomasulo, won nine of ten before leaving Europe on a losing note in June 1936 with a defeat on points.
Named "Enfant Terrible " by his adoring French fans who stormed the headquarters of Joe Louis following the defeat of Max Baer, Walker was praised for his strikingly unorthodox and innovative style.
In commenting on a possible match with Lewis, Walker said, "I ain't been asked yet. And, I ain't askin."
Walker confidently commented on a match with Lewis, the Brown Bomber, "There ain't no fighter in the world who doesn't make a mistake during a fight. Me, I just stand around and wait for that mistake.
"I can take it. And, when Louis makes that mistake, I'll swat him," the Georgia boxer proclaimed.
As he traveled Europe and the states, Walker, a quiet man who could not write and could only read picture books, showed off his strength by going to carnivals and picking up the strong men and their hefty weights - all at the same time.
Obie Walker firmly believed that World Champion Joe Louis and he could beat any boxer in the world. Walker yearned to get his chance just to fight Louis or Louis' arch rival Max Schmelling, of Germany.
"Let Louis clean up the states. I'll clean up Europe. Then we will get together and see what for," Walker once proclaimed.
Walker's first bout upon his return to the United States came in Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia. Walker had won a fight at Shibe Park, the home of the Philadelphia Athletics, in 1933. Municipal Stadium was the same outdoor arena where Gene Tunney captured the world heavyweight boxing title from Jack Dempsey. The bout came at the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, where Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952 to win boxing's heavyweight championship.
Walker pulled himself off the mat and won six consecutive fights in his home territory of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina before losing half of his next eight fights. Seven straight wins brought Walker to the climax of his career. No longer the Cochran Colossus he once was, Walker, who had returned to his home at 514 Larkin Street, lost four of his last six fights before the beginning of World War II. Walker hung up his gloves after a failed comeback attempt after the war when he lost to Elza Thompson at Dorsey Park in Miami in March 1946 in a close 10-round decision.
Atlanta Georgian sportswriter Ed Danforth wrote of Walker, "Walker became the toast of Paris. He knocked cold every topnotcher he met on the continent. Max Schmelling shrewdly dodged him, the best of the Englishmen too, sidestepped the squatty brown man who carried lightning bolts in both fists. Competent critics say he could have knocked out Schmelling, Joe Louis and Jim Braddock in one night with the space of ten rounds.
In the 100 recorded bouts of his twelve- year career, the five- foot nine- inch Obie Walker compiled a record of 77 wins, 16 losses and 5 draws. Walker's powerful arms knocked out 53 of his opponents. Remarkably, Walker was never himself knocked out - a feat matched only by a few dozen American professional boxers in the history of the sport.
On May 4, 1989, at the age of seventy-seven, Obie Walker unceremoniously died in his adopted hometown of Atlanta. There is no adequate marker to designate the final resting place of this once proud and powerful Heavyweight Colored Champion of the World. Maybe now, many more people will know his story, the story of the Black Boxcar, aka the Bleckley Behemoth, who in a hundred fights never went down to the mat for the count.
THEY CALLED HIM "MR. DEATH"
John Lyman Whitehead, Jr. was born on May 14, 1924 in Lawrenceville, Virginia, a small town on the border of North Carolina. As a child, John would spend some time in and around Dublin.
John Whitehead attended West Virginia State College prior to entering the U.S. Army Air Force. After training at Tuskegee University, Whitehead was assigned as a pilot with the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group of the Tuskegee Airmen. The 301st primarily performed escort duty on bombing runs over enemy positions in Europe.
"It was an experiment that was established that was supposed to fail, Whitehead said in a 1984 interview with the Portland Oregonian.
"But the people who were involved in it weren't going to let it fail," added the veteran pilot, who volunteered in the service after his 18th birthday.
"I had rather fly through this war instead of walk through," recalled Whitehead, who would enter flight training at Tuskegee shortly after his 19th birthday.
Lt. Whitehead, who earned his wings in 1944, finally made it to Europe in March 1945, a few months before Germany surrendered. As he reported for duty at an airfield near Foggia, Italy, his commanding officer, Captain Bob Friend, observed the five-foot, six-inch, 121-pound pilot's skeleton like frame.
Friend exclaimed, "My Gawd! What have they sent us now as a replacement, Mr. Death?" an Ebony Magazine writer wrote in the January 1951 cover story.
Whitehead liked the name and painted it on the nose of his plane.
In his brief stint with the 332nd, nicknamed the "Red Tails" by the bomber crews who were grateful for their fighter support and the "Black Birdmen" by their Germain fighter opponents, Lt. Whitehead was only able to fly nineteen missions. Although credited officially with only two kills, Whitehead saw plenty of action, some of it nearly fatal.
After his first hitch in the Air Force was over, Whitehead returned stateside to enroll at West Virginia University. In 1948, the former "Black Eagle," received a degree in Industrial Engineering.
Whitehead was recalled to active duty in the now integrated Air Force in 1948. As a pioneer in the training of jet pilots, Whitehead was a stern, but patient, instructor. In his tenure at Williams Air Force Base in Utah (1948-1951,) all but one of his students received their certification as a jet pilot.
President Truman's Executive Order 9981 mandated equal treatment in the Armed Forces although nearly all of Whitehead's students were white.
Lefty Selenger, "ranking officer at Williams Air Force Base told Ebony Magazine, "Whitehead has no race problem. He is better liked than most of us by the white boys."
Whitehead helped to train the Class of 1952 Charlie, which included some four hundred men who would serve as pilots in Korea and Vietnam. It was during this time when John Whitehead met Roy Black, a trainee from Lithia Springs, Georgia.
In his book, "52-Charlie," Edward Gushee in describing the relationship between the two best friend pilots, Roy "Blackie" Black and John "Whitey" Whitehead, wrote, "Blackie flew an additional twenty missions and when his tour was over, resigned his commission and returned to Georgia. John Whitehead, who had been raised in Dublin, Georgia, less than a hundred miles from where "Blackie" was born, stayed in the Air Force as a career officer.
After the Korean War, John Whitehead worked as a liaison between the Air Force and Boeing Aircraft and Northrop, two of the country's largest producers of jet aircraft. Lt. Col. Whitehead ended his 28- year career with the Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base in 1974.
In his nearly three-decade career with the Air Force, Lt. Col. John Whitehead is credited with being the Air Force's first African American test pilot and the first African-American jet pilot instructor. His heroic and dedicated service resulted in him being awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross with five oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters, along with the Army Commendation Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.
John Whitehead, who flew millions and millions of miles in the service of his country, died on September 6, 1992 . He was laid to rest beneath a bronze marker in the Riverside National Cemetery in Sacramento, California.
Col. Whitehead, like Col. Marion Rodgers, another California Tuskegee Airman who once, albeit temporarily lived in Laurens County, joins Major Herndon Cummings to form a trio of former Laurens Countians who called themselves Tuskegee Airmen and who served their country with pride.
Presently, a bill is scheduled to be introduced into the Georgia legislature to honor these three heroes by naming the intersection of the 441 By Pass and U.S. Highway 80 West in their honor.