Laurens County Connections
They are the children of the rich and famous. They are the parents and grandparents of celebrities. Beginning with this column and in future columns, I will tell the stories of some of our county's most famous family connections. In the past I have written of Sugar Ray Robinson and Ty Cobb, Jr., but there are many, many more.
Tall men seemed to run in one branch of the O'Neal family of Laurens County's Burgamy District. Hilton O'Neal, a farmer, was between six feet eight inches and six feet nine inches tall. His son Sirlester stood a imposing six feet five inches above the ground. The O'Neals were a farming family from way back. Hilton's father George was a son of former slaves Freeman O'Neal and Charity Blackshear. The progenitor of the O'Neal family in the county was Jack O'Neal, who was born about the year 1835 and may have been a slave of the family of William O'Neal, who maintained a plantation in northwestern Laurens County.
Lucille O'Neal was born to Sirlester and Odessa Perry O'Neal in the early 1950s. It was time when the O'Neals and many other black families felt uncomfortable in the postwar South. The family moved North in hopes of finding a better life. On March 6, 1972, Lucille gave birth to a son. The little boy didn't remain little very long. He began to grow and grow and grow. Carrying the genetic markers of his mother's paternal ancestors, the young man began to grow to a height of seven feet and one inch tall.
Today you know that young man as Shaquille O'Neal, one of the most celebrated, dominating and talented basketball players in the history of the National Basketball Association. Just think, had his grandparents not moved away, it is possible that this giant of a man would have played on the high school courts of Laurens County and with the right compliment of teammates might have dominated the ranks of Georgia high school basketball for four seasons.