A Guest Post written by Troy Wade Nanney, titled “Will and Reginald”
The society I grew up in was blatantly racist. The white and “Negro” communities were totally separate with little interaction other than when the black citizens were in a servile position. They weren’t allowed to enter a white restaurant, church, or school–and everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks.
However, not all of us were raised up with the stereotypical racist views; maybe not many, but a few white families took a different approach as much as possible within that rigid environment. Mine was one such. We had dear friends in the black community around Union Mills; at times we would even visit each other. My daddy, Reginald Nanney, was practically worshipped in that community–because of the way he treated them. Even after we moved up the road to Glenwood, they knew where we lived, and if they had car trouble in the vicinity, they’d walk to our house to get help.
When we ran a little store and filling station up toward Marion, Daddy became aware of how black men out on jobs or travelling had a rough time finding something decent to eat at lunch time since they were barred from any sort of restaurant. So he started stocking items they liked to buy to eat on the spot. We had a little meat counter which contained things like rolls of ham, cheese, bologna, and lunch meat which we would slice with an electric slicer set to requested thickness. So Daddy began to sell made-to-order sandwiches to any who requested them. It didn’t take long for word to spread, and lots of black customers began stopping in.
In this context, I’d like to focus on the special friendship between Reginald and a neighbor who lived down the road a couple of miles, Mr. Will Deck. Will was a lanky railroad section hand on the “Peavine” track that ran between Marion and Rock Hill. He was considerably older than Daddy, and the two of them worked side by side on the railroad track for over twenty years. (I have often remarked that Will was probably the best friend my daddy ever had.) When I was a little boy, I adored the old man. By then, Reginald had finally been made the section foreman (a position not then possible for a black man) and thus was Will’s boss.
We heated and cooked with wood at that time, and it required a lot of “stove wood”–dry pine sticks split from sawmill slabs–to feed the cook stove in the kitchen for a year. At that time sawmills would give slabs away just to get rid of them, so Daddy would accumulate a huge pile of them by the fall of the year. On Thanksgiving Day he would crank his woodsaw he had made in the 1930’s. It had a large circular saw powered by a 1923 T-Model Ford engine. He and my big brother Paul would saw up the whole pile ready to be split. Then Daddy would pay Will out of his own pocket for a day’s wages and let him off to work that day at our house. Will would work the whole day like a steady but unhurried machine and would have the whole pile split and tossed in the woodshed. He smoked “roll-your-own” cigarettes, holding them constantly between his lips as he worked. I would sit over to the side and watch to see just how far down he would smoke one before he started violently snatching it off his scorching lips! At lunchtime (which we called dinnertime) Mama would call him in and set him down at our table and feed him a big meal.
One day in the spring of 1947 Will let slip to his fellow laborers that he was scheduled to preach that evening at his church in Union Mills. Reginald just couldn’t miss out on that! So, that evening we all showed up to witness it. Inside we were greeted with great, twinkly-eyed smiles all around. They just couldn’t believe that a white family would visit their church! However, I missed out on Will’s sermon because I went sound asleep before he started.
What I want most to emphasize is the situation that occurred in the late 1940’s: Will was approaching the retirement age of 65, but in that era the Southern Railway had the policy of sending down word to get rid of any black man before he achieved retirement. Here was when Reginald really stuck his neck way out. He could never stand to see another human being mistreated, and after all, this was Will! So he hemmed and hawed and found excuses to delay and so on. Finally, the powers that be relented–maybe ashamed of themselves? Will got his retirement. It was such an unusual thing for that time in early 1950, the Rutherford newspaper ran a little article about it on their front page. It started out, “Will Deck, Colored, of Union Mills, has retired from the Southern Railway with forty years of service, beginning in 1910.”
My daddy, Jones Reginald Nanney (2/28/1906 to 10/22/1960) was an odd, quiet sort who never spoke out in public. (Aren’t most of us Nanneys generally viewed as weird in some way?) He just considered his way of doing as being decent and Christian during his short lifetime, but I tend to see him as a veritable unheralded civil rights pioneer.
Copyright 2015 Troy Wade Nanney