Monday, July 23, 2012


Making a Difference

On this 4th of July, we once again celebrate our independence, our patriotism and the overabundance of blessings which have been bestowed upon us by those who have gone before us. Belinda "Brenda" Higdon Pinckney is not your archetypical general. Missing is the gruff exterior we see on television and the movies. She is not a fifty- plus- year- old white male soldier. There is no "gung ho" in her heart, except for the causes she believes so strongly in. When she dons her dress blue uniform, there is a heart of gold behind the mass of commendations, ribbons and stars. Though her shoulders are not broad, thousands and thousands of the family members of the soldiers of the Army know that when they need to lay their head on them, General Pinckney will be there to comfort them. Belinda Higdon Pinckney, one of only a few African-American female general officers in the United States Army, acknowledges the blessings she has. Her mission is to share those blessings and to make life better for those coming behind.

Belinda "Brenda" Higdon Pinckney was born in Dublin, Georgia in 1954. Her parents, Homer and Lucy Higdon, cared about their children and did their best to provide all they could for their six children, even if it meant working two jobs. Though they had little education themselves, the Higdons were determined that their children would receive the best education they could. Belinda attended kindergarten at Howard Chapel Methodist Church not too far from her home in Katie Dudley Village neighborhood of the Dublin Housing Authority. As she looks back to the days she spent in Katie Dudley, she fondly remembered that if she or any other of her siblings and playmates did something they weren't supposed to be doing, they would first get a whipping by a concerned neighbor and then return home for a second stern, but loving, whipping. She applauds those in her community who helped keep the kids "on the straight and narrow."

General Pinckney credits her success in the military to the foundations of her education she received in Dublin. She attended Washington Street Elementary School. "We were challenged to do our best," Pinckney said. "Mrs. Brinson was one of my favorite teachers. She was like a mother to many of us. We were put into groups, A,B,C and D. You didn't want to be in the D group," she continued. She was in the A group and remained in the same classes with a core group of classmates for nearly ten years. Among the teachers General Pinckney remembered the most were Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Crews, Bonnese Brower, Ernest Wade, Martha Myers and her principal, Charles W. Manning, Sr.

A member of the Finance Corps, the General credits Mrs. Myers for giving her the basic foundations of understanding, and actually loving math. It was that love of math that led her into the Finance Corps. Today, she is the only minority Finance Corps Officer in the history of the United States Army to be commissioned as a general officer. Brenda's life changed dramatically in the summer of 1970. In an effort to promote harmony between the races, Federal courts ordered that Dublin High School and Oconee High School be merged. Brenda and hundreds of her classmates and friends were ripped away from their beloved Oconee High School. It was the only school they had ever known. Bused or transported all the way across town, Brenda and the other students at Oconee had a difficult time in the transition. There were scared and naturally, just angry. As I look back on those days from the other side of the tracks, these students were the trailblazers of their day.

It was these students who entered a new world and made it easier for those who came from behind. It was one of the darkest days in the history of Dublin High School. An early morning pep rally was going on in the front of the school. Suddenly a rock, reported a chunk of concrete left lying by a forgetful contractor, appeared to come from where the black students were standing. It struck a white cheerleader and then as they say, "all Hell broke loose." All students in the school were sent home. The football game went on that night, but without the band. Many of the black students were put on buses and sent back home. As Belinda boarded the bus, a bee crawled under her bright yellow clothes and stung her, prompting her to say "even the insects are against us." When I talked to the General for the first time, I told her that I was there that dark day and that we have overcome most of those differences which so bitterly divided us thirty seven years ago. She smiled.

Brenda transferred to East Laurens High School where she graduated with honors in 1972. Belinda attended Clark College in Atlanta and studied medical technology. She failed to realize that in her senior year she would have to transfer to Emory University to complete her degree. Her tuition costs were going to double. She did transfer to the Medical College of Georgia, but when she was only twelve credit hours shy of a degree, circumstances led to her quitting college. "It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me," reasoned General Pinckney. Frustrated and disappointed at how she was forced out of school, Belinda promised herself that she would never quit anything ever again.

A career in the military was an early apparent option. Her oldest brother was an Army paratrooper and Vietnam veteran and her next brother, a Marine and also a Vietnam veteran. Her older sister joined the Navy. So Brenda, looking for something more out of life, enlisted as a private first class in the Army in 1976. Older than most other members of her rank, Private Higdon was quickly put into leadership positions. "The Army exposed me to reality early in my life and made me feel good," said Pinckney who believed she could make the army a career. It wasn't long before Private Higdon looked around at the non-commissioned officers and how they handled soldiers. She said to herself, " I can do that."

So she enlisted in Officer Candidate School in 1978 and graduated the following year. It was then, more than two decades ago, that she began her goal to look after soldiers, the regular men and women of the Army. The transition from an enlisted soldier to an officer was a daunting task. Pinckney relied on the lessons she learned in school to guide her through the difficult tasks ahead. She sought out role models to learn from, much like she had at Washington Street and Oconee High schools. The army placed her in a position to advance, but like her parents, the young officer wasn't looking for any handouts. Determined and highly independent, Pinckney took advantage of every opportunity to advance up the chain of command.

"Initially, it was hard for me to transition from being an enlisted soldier to an officer because, first of all, I only had two-plus years in the military as a PFC and specialist. Secondly, other than my training in OCS, no one had really sat me down and talked to me about 'officer ship.' The expectations are much greater. I was no longer only responsible for my actions, but for the welfare of my subordinates, too," Pinckney said. General Pinckney has demonstrated her ability to succeed at all levels. Early in her life, Bonnese Thomas McLain, one of her favorite teachers, noticed something special in Brenda. "Brenda and a small group of kids would meet me around 7:00 a.m. nearly every morning wanting to make the extra effort to learn more math," Mrs. McLain said.

After she entered the army, Belinda Pinckney continued to strive toward educational excellence. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration at the University of Maryland, a Master of Public Administration degree in Financial Management at Golden State University, and a Master of Science degree in National Resource Strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

During her long and successful military career, General Pinckney has served as a Congressional Appropriations Officer, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller); Principal Deputy Director/Army Element Commander, Defense Finance and Accounting Service; Brigade Commander, 266th Finance Command and US Army Europe Staff Finance and Accounting Officer, Heidelberg, Germany; Battalion Commander, Training Support Battalion; Soldier Support Institute, Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Military Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management and Comptroller); Budget Analyst, Technology Management Office, Office of the Chief of Staff; and Company Commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 266th Finance Command.

In September 2004, Colonel Belinda Pinckney was nominated by the Army to become a general. She was the first woman in the history of the Army Finance Corps to be promoted to a general officer and the first ever person to be nominated from the comptroller field. Her first major assignment was as the Deputy Director, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which is the largest finance and accounting operation in the world, paying more than 5. 9 million people, processing 12.3 million invoices and disbursing more than four hundred and fifty thousand dollars in congressional appropriations.

General Pinckney's military awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, two Legion of Merit medals, six Meritorious Service Medals, four Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, the Office of the Secretary of Defense Staff Badge and the General Staff Identification Badge. As the general begins her thirty second year in the military, she is as committed as ever to set the bar for all military women to come.

In 2001, Pinckney was the first African-American woman to be inducted in the Officer Candidate School's Hall of Fame. She is one of only two African American generals and one of only a dozen or so female generals in the United States Army. "We need to continue to tell the stories, so that every generation will know and learn from these stories because we as a country are not particularly proud of some of this history,"she noted; "We do not want to repeat the bad history, and we want to tell the stories of the good history."

An advocate of women's rights, General Pinckney acknowledges the outstanding accomplishments of women in the military saying "Many contributions of women have gone unrecognized, the stories of their struggles and triumphs remain untold" General Pinckney recognizes the importance of their accomplishments but also realizes the tendency to take them for granted. She believes it is important to pass along the stories so that succeeding generations will know and grow from them.

As the first woman to head the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, General Pinckney has many sleepless nights. She sees no soon end to the war and worries constantly about the families of the soldiers serving in the Middle East and around the world. She often visits with wounded soldiers and their families in Washington's Walter Reed Hospital. The General seeks to make life easier for the families with the limited resources she has at her disposal.

Just thirty-six hours after she addressed a reunion of her fellow alumni of Oconee High School, General Pinckney boarded a plane bound for Houston, Texas and another funeral, another day of comforting the anguished with dignity and honor, all the time knowing that she is serving her nation proudly and setting an example for women and minority officers in the future. With a legacy of education, leadership and old-fashioned values she learned in the schools, churches and homes of Dublin and Laurens County, General Belinda "Brenda" Higdon Pinckney is bound for greater things to come in her Army career. It is with great honor that I, on behalf of all of the people of Laurens County and the United States of America, salute our very own hometown hero for a job well done as she seeks to better the lives of her soldiers and their families.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Frances could remember the days when she wasn't free. Some seven decades after she received her freedom, she sat down in her home on Bridge Street in Athens with Sadie B. Hornsby to relate her memories of the days when she lived in one room log cabin with a stick and mud chimney. Frances never forgot the day she was free to go were ever she wanted to, when she wanted to. This is her story, in her own words, a woman's story of slavery as she saw it. They are her words, written long ago in interpretation of her own simple dialect.

"I was born way off down in Twiggs County 'bout a mile from the town of Jeffersonville. My Pa and Ma was Otto and Sarah Rutherford," Frances recalled. There were nine children and parents living in a meager hut they called their home. "Our bedsteads was made out of rough planks and poles and some of 'em was nailed to de sides of de cabins," Frances remembered. The mattresses were stuffed with wheat straw while it was in season. "When dat was used up us got grass from de fields. Most any kind of hay was counted good 'nough to put in a slave's mattress," Mrs. Willingham said. "Dey let us mix some cotton wid de hay our pillows," she added.

In her four years of slavery, Frances was somewhat exempt from toiling in the fields. "Us chillun never done much but play 'round de house and yards wid de white chillun. I warn't but four years old when dey made us free," she reminisced.

Frances could still remember her grandmothers and aunts. "I remember once Grandma Suck, she wes my Ma's mammy, come to our house and stayed one or two days wid us. Daddy's Ma was named Puss." Both of her grandmothers were field hands, but her mother worked in the house carding and spinning threads. Her aunt Phoebe weaved the threads onto cloth and her Polly sewed the cloth into threads.

As a child, Frances never had any money. "Nobody never give slave chillun no money in dem times. I never had none 'til atter us had done been give our freedom." But, she did see the money that her master Elisha Jones had. " I used to see Old Marster countin' of it, but de slaves never did git none of dat money. "

Frances spoke somewhat highly of her master. " Our Old Marster was a pow'ful rich man, and he sho' b'lieved in givin' us plenty to eat. It warn't nothin' fine, but it was good plain eatin' what filled you up and kept you well. Dere was cornbread and meat, greens of all sorts, 'taters, roas'en-ears and more other kinds of veg'tables dan I could call up all day. Marster had one big old gyarden whar he kept most evything a-growin' 'cept cabbages and 'matoes. He said dem things warn't fittin' for nobody to eat."

Jones trusted Otto enough to let him go hunting on his won. One delicacy in Frances' family was possum. Her family had to cook everything in an open fireplace. I've seen Ma clean many a 'possum in hot ashes. Den she scalded him and tuk out his innards. She par-boiled and den baked him and when she fetched him to de table wide a heap of sweet 'taters 'round him on de dish, dat was sho' somepin good to eat," Mrs. Willingham fondly recalled.

As a child slave, her clothes were at least decent. In summer, the girl slaves wore homespun dresses, with full skirts sewed tight to fit their waists and fastened down on their backs with buttons made out of cows and rams horns. "Our white petticoat slips and pantalettes was made on bodices. In winter us wore balmorals what had three stripes 'round de bottom, and over dem us had on long sleeved ap'ons what was long as de balmorals. Slave gals' pantalettes warn't ruffled and tucked and trimmed up wid lace and 'broidery lak Miss Polly's chilluns' was," Frances concluded.

The adult slaves on the Jones' plantation wore rough brogan. Frances and the other children wore the hand me down shoes that the Jones children had outgrown. "Dey called 'em Jackson shoes, 'cause dey was made wid a extra wide piece of leather sewed on de outside so as when you knocked your ankles 'gainst one another, it wouldn't wear no holes in your shoes. Our Sunday shoes warn't no different from what us wore evvyday," Frances said.

Elisha and Mary Jones were wealthy by most standards. In the year before the Civil War began, Jones owned $20,000 worth of real estate and $36,500.00 of personal property including slightly more than fifty slaves.

"Marse Lish Jones and his wife--she was Miss Polly--was our Marster and Mist'ess. Dey sho' did love to be good to us. Dey had five chillun of deir own, two gals and three boys. Dey was: Mary, Anna Della, Steve, John, and Bob. 'Bout deir house! Oh, Missus, dat was somepin to see for sho'.

Frances remembered the Jones's plantation house near the Town of Marion, then the capital of Twiggs County. "It was a big old fine two-story frame house wid a porch 'cross de front and 'round both sides. Dere was five rooms on de fust floor and three upstairs. It sho' did look grand a-settin' back dar in dat big old oak grove," the old slave woman looked back.

Mrs. Willingham vividly recalled her old master, "Old Master had a overseer but he never had no carriage driver 'cause he loved to drive for himself so good." Willingham said that she never saw her master do anything except drive his carriage, walk a little and eat all that he wanted to because he was rich man and didn't have to do anything. She recalled that the plantation was very large and although she couldn't remember just how many slaves lived and worked there, she did remark, "Dat old plantation was plumb full of 'em."

Field work was hard. ""Our overseer got all de slaves up 'fore break of day and dey had to be done et deir breakfast and in de field when de sun rise up," Willingham remembered. The slaves would work all day past twilight before they came back to their quarters to eat supper and rest.

Whippings on the Jones place were somewhat rare, at least Frances never saw one. She did remember the dime when she climbed on top of the porch of the big house and flapped her arms and crowed like a rooster. " Dey told me to come on down, but I wouldn't mind nobody and kept on a-crowin' and a-flappin', so dey whupped me down," Willingham remarked.

Frances and the other slaves, although a few miles from the nearest battle at Griswoldville, saw the war coming to an end. Although she was barely four years old, she told her interviewers, "Mercy me! I'se seed plenty of dem yankees a-gwine and comin'. Dey come to our Marster's house and stole his good mules. Dey tuk what dey wanted of his meat, chickens, lard and syrup and den poured de rest of de syrup out on de ground.," Mrs. Willingham remembered.

Free from all the helpless despair of seemingly eternal bondage, Frances Willingham was no better off than she was before she was granted her freedom. She had little that she could truly call her own. Slaves had their freedom, but had little choice of where to go and how to scratch out a living. Many of the things the former slaves had provided for them were now gone or beyond the reach of their somewhat less than meager incomes would allow. Although legally free, many of the slaves remained on the plantations and continued to see their former masters as still their masters.

Education was almost nonexistent in those days for black children. "I ain't never been to school a day in my life, 'cause when I was little, black children weren't allowed to read and write," she remembered.

Going to church was different too. Before the war, slaves and their masters worshiped in the same church. After the war, congregations were ironically segregated. "Colored folks had their own church in a settlement called John the Baptist," Willingham remembered in recalling that she and the other children loved going to baptisms. "Day took dem converts to a hole in de crick what day had got ready for dat purpose. De preacher went fust, and den he called for de converts to come on in and have deir sins washed away," she said.

Funerals were primitive as well. Willingham explained that Elijah Jones had set apart a burying ground for his slaves adjoining his own family's cemetery. "Us didn't know nothin' 'bout no fun'rals. When one of de slaves died, dey was put in unpainted home-made coffins and tuk to de graveyard whar de grave had done been dug. Dey put 'em in dar and kivvered 'em up and dat was all dey done 'bout it," Willingham recalled.

Frances reminisced about a single wedding on her master's plantation. She never forgot the day when Miss Polly gave her one of little Miss Mary's dresses to wear to the wedding. "Only dey never had no real weddin'. Dey was jus' married in de yard by de colored preacher and dat was all dere was to it," she recollected.

Frances Willingham fondly recalled Christmas times in her youth. She remembered going to bed early because she and the other children were afraid that Santa Claus wouldn't come to see them. "Us carried our stockin's up to de big house to hang 'em up. Next mornin' us found 'em full of all sorts of good things, 'cept oranges. I never seed nary a orange 'til I was a big gal," she reminisced.

Food was plentiful in holiday times. "Miss Polly had fresh meat, cake, syrup puddin' and plenty of good sweet butter what she 'lowanced out to her slaves at Christmas. Old Marster, he made syrup by de barrel. Plenty of apples and nuts and groundpeas was raised right dar on de plantation. In de Christmas, de only work slaves done was jus' piddlin' 'round de house and yards, cuttin' wood, rakin' leaves, lookin' atter de stock, waitin' on de white folks and little chores lak dat," she remembered. Hard work resumed on the day after New Year's Day.

Medical care, although primitive at best, was available, if only on a limited basis. Of those days, Willingham recalled, "White folks was mighty good and kind when deir slaves got sick. Old Marster sont for Dr. 'Pree (DuPree) and when he couldn't git him, he got Dr. Brown. He made us swallow bitter tastin' powders what he had done mixed up in water. Miss Polly made us drink tea made out of Jerusalem oak weeds. She biled dem weeds and sweetened de tea wid syrup. Dat was good for stomach trouble, and us wore elder roots strung 'round our necks to keep off ailments," Mrs. Frances remarked.

The women of Frances Willingham's day had little rest, even after leaving the fields. She recalled that when the slaves came in from the field, the women cleaned the houses after they eat and washed clothes early in the morning so that they would be dry for the next day. She remembered that the grown men would eat, sit around and talk to other men and then go to bed.

Saturday nights were a time to frolic. Quitting time came around three or four o'clock in the afternoon. "Sadday nights de young folks got together to have deir fun. Dey danced, frolicked, drunk likker, and de lak of dat. Old Marster warn't too hard on 'em no time, but he jus' let 'em have dat night to frolic. On Sunday he give dem what wanted 'em passes to go to church and visit 'round," she reminisced.

Jones allowed his workers little rest from the time crops were planted until they were harvested. "My master did allow us slaves to have cornshuckin's, cornshellin's, cotton pickin's, and quiltin's," said Mrs. Willingham. Jones's groves of pecan, chestnut, walnuts and other trees were lucrative . When all the nuts were gathered, Jones sold them to the rich people in the cities. Afterwards, he gave his slaves a big feast with plenty to drink. After a long celebration, Jones allowed the slaves a few days to recover before resuming their grueling duties.

In her final years, Frances Willingham reflected on her freedom, "Me, I's so' glad Mr. Lincoln sot us free." She believed that if she was still a slave, that she work just the same, sick or not. "Now I don't have to ax nobody what I kin do. Dat's why I's glad I's free," Willingham concluded.

After leaving the Jones plantation, Frances moved to Putnam County, Georgia, where she married Green Willingham, of neighboring Jasper County. "I didn't have no weddin'. Ma jus' cooked a chicken for us, and I was married in a white dress. De waist had ruffles 'round de neck and sleeves," she said as she looked back to her wedding day.

Frances Willingham lived a long life. She worked hard to provide for her seven boys and ten girls. Then as she got older she did all she could to look after her 19 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.

In this month of March when we celebrate Women's History Month, let us look back and reflect on all the Frances Willinghams of the world, who toiled and worked with little rest to provide for their families as best as they could.



Pioneers On A Submarine

When Leonard and Albert Rozar spent the days of their youth working on their father's farm in the Burgamy District of northwestern Laurens County, they never dreamed that they would spend decades serving as stewards and mess attendants aboard submarines and in other positions in the United States Navy.

The Rozars grew up in a time when the number of black sailors serving aboard sailing ships was systematically restricted and when the number of black submariners was even more limited. All of that began to change in the years leading up to the beginning of World War II.

It was in those days before modern, nuclear powered submarines patrolled the waters of the oceans of the world when these two Laurens County brothers, "Big Rozar" and "Little Rozar" became pioneers of sorts. The Rozars set the standard for longevity of a duo of brothers with each serving for three decades in the United States Navy.

In his definitive work, Black Submariners in the United States Navy, 1940-1975, Glynn A. Knoblock interviewed scores of African-American sailors who served aboard submarines. Two of those sailors whom Knoblock interviewed were Leonard and Albert Rozar, of Laurens County, Georgia.

Leonard Cicero Rozar, (LEFT) the second son of Monroe Griffin Rozar and Mattie Rozar, was born on the second day of July 1917. After the fall crop of 1939 was harvested and the winds of war began to howl out of Europe, Leonard Rozar traveled to Macon in the week after Thanksgiving to enlist in the Navy of the United States. Rozar was quoted as saying "No army for me. I'd heard devious things about them."

Rozar reported for duty at Norfolk. After undergoing the usual military training exercises, Leonard was assigned to duty as Mess Attendant, Third Class. Black sailors had historically been relegated to menial duty as cooks, stewards, and laundrymen for the crew and officers aboard submarines. Nearly all of the other submarine crewmen were white. Ironically by serving in close quarters with other stewards and white crewmen, these cooks and servants developed closer bonds with their crew mates.

Rozar left for duty in Pearl Harbor on the day after Easter in 1940. His first assignment was aboard the U.S.S. Plunger and later the U.S.S. Pollack, on which he served for the remainder of the year. Rozar joined, as a Mess Attendant 1st Class, the crew of the newly commissioned, U.S.S. Tuna, on the second day of 1941. A year later, the Tuna set out for Pearl Harbor, a month after the Japanese attack on the island base. Rozar's boat set out to patrol the waters of the East China Sea until it was assigned to the waters around New Guinea later in the year, 1942.

"I was a qualified sound man aboard (the Tuna), and my battle station was in the forward battery. I was on the standby sound gear, and also in the control room, ready to pull the demolition plug if needed," Rozar recalled.

Just days before Christmas, Leonard transferred to the U.S.S. Saury, on which he would serve until the last day of 1944. During his two years aboard the Saury, the sub saw little action except bad weather and broken equipment. Rozar recalled that he enjoyed being aboard the Saury. It was years later when he discovered that fellow Steward's Mate 1st Class, William Henry Cosby, was the father of actor Bill Cosby.

Rozar was promoted to Steward First Class and transferred to the U.S.S. Sailfish, which basically sat out the rest of the war in the Pacific, working instead as a training boat off the Atlantic coast of the United States.

Over the remainder of his 30-year career, Leonard Rozar served aboard the Sailfish, the Flying Fish, and the Chopper, before moving to New London, Connecticut in 1962. Rozar ended his career by serving as a Chief in Athens, Georgia, not far from home, and finally with a 20-month tour aboard the Cruiser Little Rock, an assignment which he did not care to have. In 1969, after three decades in the United States Navy, Leonard Rozar retired as a Senior Chief Petty Officer, the second highest enlisted grade in the Navy.

Leonard Cicero Rozar died on March 31, 2008 in San Diego, California.

Albert Rozar, (LEFT) the third son of Monroe Griffin and Mattie Rozar, was born in 1919. A highly gifted athlete in high school, Albert followed in his brother's footsteps when he joined the Navy on August 14, 1941. After attending boot camp at Norfolk and machine gun school at Mare Island, Albert Rozar reported for duty at Pearl Harbor. On December 11, 1941, as a late addition to the crew of the U.S.S. Gudgeon, Albert Rozar rode aboard the boat in the first war patrol of a U.S. submarine in World War II.

A transfer to the Pargo gave Albert Rozar more opportunities to come out of the galley for duty as telephone operator in the forward battery and when on the deck, the opportunity to man the 40mm guns. On his first patrol aboard the Pargo in the late fall of 1943, Rozar's boat was a part of only the second wolfpack operation by U.S. submarines. He remained aboard the Pargo, which sunk six ships, until the fall of 1944.

After leaving the Pargo, Albert Rozar was assigned to the staff of Commodore Charles "Weary" Wilkins on Midway. When the war was over, Albert was transferred to New London, Connecticut. In 1946, Albert reported for duty aboard the U.S.S. Segundo. Another year meant another assignment. In 1947, Rozar served aboard the U.S.S. Greenfish, which was one of the first submarines to receive personnel via helicopter from an aircraft carrier.

During the 1950s, Albert served aboard the Cobbler, the Shark, and the Orion. He equaled his brother's tenure in 1971, retiring as a Senior Chief Petty Officer.

The careers of Leonard and Albert Rozar spanned five different decades, three wars, and totaled sixty years of service in the United States Navy. They saw the roles of African-American sailors aboard submarines go from mess attendants and stewards aboard untested, relatively primitive submarines to respected positions as Senior Chief Petty officers and commissioned officers in the modern nuclear navy.



When he was 12, Quincy Trouppe used to hang out on Compton and Market Streets in St. Louis. He dreamed about the lucky days when he would race down the street and snatch up a ball flying out of Stars Park, where the St. Louis Stars of the old Negro leagues played. He redeemed those balls for tickets into the stadium to see his heroes play. It was his dream that one day he would be on that very diamond and other diamonds like it around the country. More than twenty years would elapse before black men would be allowed to play Major League Baseball. And, Quincy Trouppe was one of the first.

It was in the fading twilight of his illustrious baseball career that this Dublin man rose to the top of the game as the first African American catcher in the American League. But, all too soon, his life long dream turned into a disheartening nightmare when he was rejected by the game he loved so much.

Quincy Trouppe was born on December 25, 1912 in Dublin, Georgia. His family moved to St. Louis, Missouri before he reached the age of ten. At the age of 18, Quincy Trouppe realized his dream and began his professional baseball career with the St. Louis Stars in 1931. Over the next twenty seasons, Trouppe starred with the Homestead Grays, Kansas City Monarchs, and the Cleveland Buckeyes as well as a host of other teams in his eight seasons in the Mexican League.

Trouppe starred for the West team in five all-star games, four as a catcher from 1945 through 48. He managed the Buckeyes to Negro American League titles in 1945 and 1947 and one World Championship in 1945. After the 1936 season, Trouppe took off a year from baseball to box, having won a major heavyweight tournament title in 1936.

It was in October 1951 after returning from Mexico when Quincey got a call, one which would change his life forever, or so he thought. A bellboy in a hotel lobby in Caracas, Venezuela called Trouppe to the phone. On the other end of the line was Hank Greenberg, a former Detroit Tiger home run champion and a future member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Greenberg, a member of the front office of the Cleveland Indians, invited Quincy, who had another outstanding season in the Winter Leagues, to attend training camp with the Indians in the spring of 1952, sixty years ago this month.

"I was out of words," Quincy recalled in his autobiography, Twenty Years Too Soon. Greenberg offered Trouppe a minor league contract in Indianapolis But with the surprise proposal came an opportunity to make the big league team. It was the chance that Quincy Trouppe had been waiting for twenty years.

Excited to be in the big leagues, Quincy considered that he was in his best shape in many years. "No one who has ever broken into organized ball could have felt better than I did when I inked my name to that new Cleveland Indians contract," Trouppe wrote a quarter of a century later.

During spring training, Trouppe caught every third game and outhit the other two catchers, two to one. "I caught Early Wynn," a Hall of Fame pitcher, "for seventeen straight scoreless innings," he recalled. Trouppe also caught Hall of Famers, Bob Lemon and Bob Feller. Feller was considered as one of the greatest right-handed pitchers in baseball history.

In 1952, during the sunset of his career, Feller was beginning to struggle. Trouppe suggested to Indian fast baller that he develop a good change up and mix up his pitches. "I suggested this to Bob, and he pitched a shut out," said Trouppe, who never forgot the next day when Feller came up to him before the next game and said, "Quincy, you called a very good game yesterday. You used excellent judgment on the hitters, and you also knew how to use my most effective pitch. Keep up the good work."

It was on the last day of April 1952 at Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics, when Quincy, wearing number 16 on the back of his gray flannel road uniform, played in his first game. At the age of 39 years, four months and five days, Quincey Trouppe became one of the oldest rookies in the history of baseball, a mark surpassed only by a scant few other older former Negro League stars.

Three days later at Griffith Stadium on a cool mid-spring Saturday in Washington, D.C., Quincy was catching when Indian manager Al Lopez, also a member of the Hall of Fame, called to the bullpen and signaled for Sam "Toothpick" Jones, Quincy's old Cleveland Buckeye teammate to come in to pitch in relief. Jones came into the game with one out trying to hold the Senators to a 5-4 lead.  (Left-Trouppe-Jones)

Whether anyone among the 10,257 paid fans in the crowd noticed it or not, with Jones' first pitch to Senator's outfielder, Sam Mele, Quincy Trouppe and Sam Jones became the first black battery in American League history. The historic event seemingly went unnoticed in the sports pages across the country. Several years earlier, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League, became the first black battery in Major League history.

The American League record book was amended when the Indians tied an American League record when they used twenty-three players in a nine-inning game. After the game, Mele, who would pilot the Minnesota Twins to the 1965 American League Championship, was traded to the Chicago White Sox.

Trouppe was used sparingly, catching behind veteran Birdie Tebbetts, some six weeks older than Quincy and the decade younger catcher, Jim Hegan.

May 10, 1952 was a bittersweet day for Quincy Trouppe. For the first time in his major league career, Quincy Trouppe was a starting catcher in the major leagues. To make the game sweeter, Trouppe was playing against the Browns from his home in St. Louis. Early Wynn was pitching for the Indians, Tommy Byrne, a former Yankee star pitcher, for the visiting Browns.

Quincy came up to bat in the bottom of the third inning. He stroked his first Major League hit, a solid single to left, and scored his first major league run on Bobby Avila's single. It would be his last major league hit and his last major league run. It would be his last game in the major leagues.

In his ten-game stint with the Indians, Quincy, who got few opportunities to hit, posted a dismal .100 batting average, well below his .280 plus career average. Behind the plate, Quincy was as effective as ever, handling 25 chances without a single error and leaving the game of with a perfect major league fielding percentage.

While Quincy was working out the next day, he got a message to report to Greenberg in Manager Lopez's office. The news wasn't good. He was being demoted down to the farm team in Indianapolis. "This hit with such a force that I was speechless for a few minutes," Trouppe remembered. The veteran catcher spoke up in his defense that he felt he was being mistreated. Greenberg merely responded that the Indians felt that with him, they had no record to go on.

Quincy Trouppe became even more upset. During his 21 seasons in professional baseball, Trouppe had proven that he was one of the best catchers in Negro League history. He possessed a proven record of working with younger players and the game's greatest players as well.

Trouppe had caught some of the greatest pitchers in the game, including the legendary Satchel Paige and Dizzy Dean. He was once a roommate of Hall of Famer, Monte Irvin. Quincy played with and against many of the greatest players in the Negro League and baseball, period. His National League counterpart, Roy Campanella, had recommended him to the Indians.

Quincy Trouppe finished his career in Indianapolis before returning to St. Louis for a new life with his new wife, Myralin. Before the beginning of the 1953 season, the St. Louis Cardinals hired Quincy as a scout. Trouppe scoured the country for the best and most promising players.

Very quickly, he identified two outstanding young hitters and fielders. He began talking to the youngsters about signing with his team. Both were amenable and agreed to sign. But, when Trouppe presented his recommendations to the Cards' management, he was told not to offer the young men any contracts. The two men signed with other teams, one with Pittsburgh and the other with the Cubs. They were Roberto Clemente and Ernie Banks, two of the game's all time greatest players.

So you see this former Dublin man, who many regard as one of the best catchers in the history of the Negro Leagues, was denied the chance he so richly deserved. Nor was he ever praised by his team for his best two scouting recommendations, ones which were systematically rejected by his supervisors.

Despite the broken dreams and the missed opportunities, it was in the old days, his days, during the Golden Age of Baseball, when Quincey Trouppe, of Dublin, Georgia, was a shining star in a heaven of baseball greats.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012



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.