Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Arthur meets Dr. George Washington Carver

Arthur Graves Story Continued

Arthur Graves was born in his parents’ two story frame home in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on February 7, 1927; the house had indoor toilets and four bedrooms and Arthur still lives at the same site today.  One day when Arthur was a small boy, he noticed a large crowd gathered at Mr. Percy Ricks, who was his next door neighbor at 802 East Eighth Street in Tuscumbia; Arthur went over to the Ricks home and saw Walter Jackson, C. E. Lesley, and a large group of people surrounding one of the most famous black men of his time, Dr. George Washington Carver.

As Arthur tried to get closer to Dr. Carver, he bumped into a small evergreen bush that contained a large wasp nest; the wasps became stirred up and one stung Arthur.  Everyone scattered except Dr. Carver who came to the rescue of Arthur; he grabbed leaves from three different trees and twisted them together and rubbed the leaves on Arthur’s wasp sting.  Arthur said immediately the pain of the sting left and he did not have any swelling.  Later that evening, Arthur went to Sheffield High School to listen to Dr. George Washing Carver speak; he sat in the balcony because black folks were not allowed to set with the white folks.

Arthur also related that most of the wealthy white folks used black wet nurses to breast feed their infants; the white folks would not allow a white wet nurse to breast feed their babies because they felt the baby would become attached to a white wet nurse.  Wet nurses would also chew the food prior to feeding it to the baby; the nurses would take small portions of beef, pork, mutton, fruit, or vegetables to chew until soft before feeding it to the babies.  The black wet nurses also had to set in the balcony of the churches because it was warmer in the winter time due to the rising heat.

When Arthur Graves was a young boy, he had to lead the cow and mule to the pasture and walk past the big home that had been built by George Lawrence.  When he was small, Arthur played with Lawrence’s daughters Susie Bitting Lawrence and Martha Frances Lawrence; while in high school, he worked for George Lawrence’s car business.  Mr. Lawrence agreed to sell Arthur a car for one dollar per week; Arthur was real excited to buy a car but decided that he should first talk to his father before bringing the car home.  Even though he was happy to get a car, Arthur knew that he had to discuss the deal with his father Frank Graves.  Arthur was surprised when his father asked him, “Where are you going to park this car?”  Arthur said, “Since you do not have a car, I will park it in the driveway.”  Frank replied, “You do not have a driveway!  My advice to you is do not buy anything until you have a place to put it; therefore you cannot put that car in my driveway.”

After the discussion with his father, Arthur Graves decided the best thing for him to do was to go to college; since his brothers were at Tuskegee, Arthur enrolled in school where his brothers were attending.  After some time in college, Arthur decided to come home in November and go back to work for Mr. Lawrence who eventually sold the dealership in 1946 or 1947; one night in March, Arthur came in at three in the morning and his father was up waiting on him to get home.  His dad Frank told him, “Arthur you have been home since returning from Tuskegee and I expected you to start paying rent since you are working and coming home at all hours.  If you stay here, you will pay me room and board of ten dollars per week.”  Immediately, Arthur went upstairs and packed his bags; at five that morning, Arthur took his suitcases and left home that March morning.  He headed back to Tuskegee to complete his college degree.  At Tuskegee, Arthur got in a work study program, washed cars, and worked odd jobs to earn money for his school expenses.

Arthur stayed at Tuskegee until he was drafted in May 1946, and was sent to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas; he made a drill instructor and was a clerk in the orderly room.  Since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan and the war ended shortly thereafter, Arthur served only eight months and 29 days before returning to Tuskegee, Alabama, where he re-enrolled in college.  Arthur graduated from Tuskegee University in 1948.  At his graduation ceremony, Arthur’s brother drove his father Frank and mother Alice to the see their son get his degree; from Tuskegee, his parents and brother drove to Washington, D.C. to see his baby sister Gloria Graves graduate from college.  Eventually all of the Graves children graduated from college.

In 1949, Arthur Graves got a job teaching public school in Decatur, Alabama; while in the Decatur public schools, he got called back to active duty during the Korean War.  Even though Arthur did not have to go to Korea, he served on active duty for a total of 20 years in the armed forces; initially, he was a drill instructor of black troops.  At the time Arthur served as a drill instructor, the military had just began to use black instructors; President Truman had desegregated all the services around 1948, but the order did not desegregate the people.

While on active duty, Arthur Graves acquired the rank of Colonel.  Even though the military services were officially integrated, black troops still had to endure the racial overtones of other white military leaders; Colonel Arthur Graves referred to these people as ring knockers because of their West Point rings.  Graves said, “From the time of the baseball great Jackie Roberson and General B.O. Davis with the Tuskegee Airmen, one thing that sustained the black troops was the attitude to be successful.  The old attitudes had problems with life itself and were hard to change, but at first most military people were not willing to accept change; blacks in the military still run into segregation issues.”

Arthur Graves stayed sick during his flight training in the air corps; he was later diagnosed with sever anxiety because of the fear of flying.  Arthur said he did not have a problem while in the air but before a flight he always got sick; he was in advanced training for flying B-25’s in the Old Army Air Corps.  After serving 26 years, Arthur Graves retired from the United States military; he begin teaching at the University of North Alabama on December 31, 1974, and taught for 14 years before retiring as a college professor in 1988.

Arthur Graves eventually became the executor of the estate of his deceased uncle who had inherited about 400 acres of his grandfather’s estate; his uncle had also purchased additional property when many farmers went under during the depression.  Arthur’s uncle had a bright red headed son who became an alcoholic and wrote many bad checks for which he was incarcerated in the local jail; Judge Vanderhoff stated that the boy was his own worst enemy and placed Arthur Graves over his estate to manage.  Arthur sold off some of the land to pay off the bad checks and to provide for his cousin and keep him out of jail.  Arthur eventually sold all the land around Hillsboro, Alabama, that belonged to his Reynolds uncle.

Arthur Graves married Jean Long on November 22, 1958, and they have been married for 53 years; Arthur and Jean had three children:  Lisa Graves Minor graduated from Vanderbilt University; Kenneth Graves graduated from Cumberland Law School; and, Sherry Graves Smith graduated University of Alabama and Cumberland Law School.  Jean Long Graves’ father was William Mansel Long who was from Lane Springs in northwest Colbert County; her mother was Otelia Mullins who was from the Ricks Community near “The Oaks Plantation” which is also in Colbert County.  Arthur had two children from a previous marriage; Arthur B. Graves is a retired educator and Frank Graves is a retired dentist.

In 1982, Arthur Graves bought and paid for a funeral home from Ms. Eloise Thompson that he still operates today.  Graves said, “I have had a radio program for 25 years; the radio program costs me $800.00 per month and I am on the air on Sunday starting at 9:15 am to promote my funeral home business.  I go to the Methodist Church and the rest of my family goes to the Church of Christ.  I believe one of our greatest rights is the freedom to vote; I am a member of the 47% and draw three retirements!  I will work as long as God blesses me and my good health.”

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