Avery Foster marker long overdue

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 21, 2019

As we recognize Black History Month, I began to think about the accomplishments of African-Americans in my lifetime.

Avery Foster came to mind. He was the first black sheriff’s deputy in North Carolina, and served as an officer with the Mocksville Police Department for many years. He was older as I came along, so I really didn’t see him in action. But it was obvious that he was respected by people of all colors. I’d never seen a church so packed as the day of his funeral. It would be appropriate to put some kind of historical marker near the new town park, which also adjoins the police department, recognizing him for his service. It’s hard to prove that anyone was the “first” at anything, but Avery Foster is recognized by the state as being the first black sheriff’s deputy. It’s a job worth noting for generations to come.

We’ve got Julius Suiter, who helped Davie through school integration in the late 1960s. He didn’t take sides, but helped make sure that our children of both races remained safe. He’s been a mainstay in the community since that time, and it made me glad to see him as a judge with the Davie Respect Initiative. That’s what we all need — more respect for one another, even those who don’t look like us, or think like us, or act like us …

Alice Gaither was my “black mother,” and I didn’t mind. She truly cared for people, and at the same time, wasn’t afraid to speak up for what she thought was right. I loved hearing her tell the story of sitting in the front reception area of a Mocksville doctor’s office, knowing that blacks were expected to enter from the back door. She stayed, and was seen by the doctor, as well. More than once I was chastized by her for something in the newspaper. It didn’t diminish my love for her, because she was usually right. If she hadn’t cared about me, she would have remained silent.

I must have grown up in a household that believed in equality, because I can’t remember bad words about someone because of the color of their skin. It’s hard to believe because my momma was from Alabama and a George Wallace fan, but more than once, it was her who came to the aid of people of color in the neighborhood. And while we could play with the black children who lived just up the road from our community, not every white child had that luxury. The favorite story about my dad was during a baseball game in Fork, and there weren’t enough players. The blacks watched the games from behind the outfield fence. My dad went to recruit a few so the game could continue.

As for influences on my young life, there weren’t many people of color. African-American teachers were few in Davie County back then, and other than church (segregated, I remember the astonishment on many faces when an African-American came in the door for a Sunday service), there weren’t many opportunities for people of color to have an influence.

Facebook has been filled this month with stories of influential African Americans, many of whom I had never heard of. Their accomplishments were, however, great.

My favorite was a photo of a young black man (he looked to be about 14 years old) standing on a railroad track in Mobile, Ala. His mother was sending him to Ohio for a job. He had $1.50 in his pocket and two changes of clothes in a paper bag. It was Hank Aaron, the all-time home run leader in Major League Baseball (Sorry Barry Bonds, you’re a cheater and don’t count in my mind. You don’t bulk up like that from working out.). I even got Hammerin’ Hank’s autograph at a Braves game as a child, but it’s nowhere to be found now. And I saw him hit No. 709, a highlight of my life.

There’s countless other African-Americans, here and around the world, who make a positive difference for mankind. Recognize them, thank them, and look at them as you would someone who looks just like you.

Mike Barnhardt is editor of the Davie County Enterprise-Record.