Dowell: My father, my hero
Published 8:02 pm Friday, March 3, 2017
I am happy that God in his infinite wisdom allowed me to be the son of such a great father. In many respects, along with being a great parent, my father was a very versatile person. Among his many talents was being an amateur pitcher in the Negro Baseball League. In 1948, he actually won the major baseball series between Negro teams in Georgia and Alabama held at historic Washington High School in Atlanta. He was a handsome person in his uniform.
My father was just as good in the moonshine business which was popular and profitable during his lifetime. He was a mid-level participant in a moonshine enterprise that included a sheriff, judge, and several of the most dangerous white and black men you would never have wanted to offend, or make angry.
Excluding the Sheriff and Judge, these men would meet in our home each Friday evening from the time I was in elementary school until I completed my high school education. As I became an adult, I now realize that those men who frequented our home were a part of an important network that was actually protected by a Sheriff and a Judge. They would meet to discuss business and to deliver their weekly gift offerings to my father. The next day the gift offerings would be given to the Judge who would come by our home each Saturday. Not only would he be given the monetary offering, but a mason jar full of the moonshiners’ latest brew. When I think about it, those moonshiners probably paid the Judge and Sheriff incalculable dollars. Their children’s education was probably paid for by this motley crew brought together because of their common business interests-illegal though, it may have been.
This was a forced kind of integration. Men who had to put race and prejudice aside to jointly make money. Looking back on those days, I only witnessed one incident that could have destroyed this strange partnership. Among the moonshiners was a despicable character who dipped snuff. When he needed to spit, he would spit directly into my mother’s kitchen sink. I remember a particular Friday night when my father told him never to spit again into the sink. Several weeks later, he did it again. What happened after that could have been scripted out of a movie. For what seemed forever, a dangerous and ominous quiet descended over the room that evening.
My father was not a person to be trifled with; he meant what he said and did not play. Even during this segregated and dangerous period, he was unafraid of any man – black or white. The man who spat in the sink, along with being a moonshiner, was a dairyman by profession. The family of this dastardly scoundrel, ironically, made the best buttermilk in the city. It was also alleged that he was a high ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. On that night, however, it was immaterial to my father who or what his affiliations were, this was disrespect that had to be addressed. The scene was almost reminiscent of the final gunfight scene at the end of the spaghetti, western movie, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, starring Clint Eastwood.
A nasty and potentially violent situation was about to occur but was averted when one of the white moonshiners pushed the culprit who created the tension over to the sink and demanded that he clean the mess. The intervention happened just in time. The level-headed men that night realized that a confrontation could have disrupted their business arrangement and most importantly, resulted in a potentially deadly situation.
Even though my father appeared tough when he needed to be, I have fond memories of his relationship with my mother. He was conscious of the environment and culture of segregation and insisted that she stay at home to be protected as much as possible from legalized prejudice and discrimination. They truly loved each other until death physically separated them. My mother predeceased my father in death. I will never forget the two of us being alone on the night of her death when he turned his face away from me crying inconsolably, saying over and over again, “I have lost my best friend.”
When they died, I too lost my best friends – the greatest parents any child could call “mom” or “dad.”
Dr. Glenn Dowell is an author and columnist who currently lives in Jonesboro. He has been a guest speaker on major college campuses, including having appeared on TV programs such as the Oprah Winfrey Show. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org