July was slouching along in its typical sweltering fashion a few Tuesday afternoons ago. It was one of those lazy summer days when I wished to be a child again and ride my bike down to Grandpa and Grandma Bray’s farm and find them sitting beneath the old oaks. Instead, I drove my car to that old farm and found my parents there—Daddy puttering around outside and Mama busy inside.
It had been a long time since I had visited them on a Tuesday. But in a switch from our typical rush-rush, hurry-hurry life, the kids and I plunked down on my parents’ couch to watch a movie with Mama. She even brought out the homemade peach ice-cream as we laughed together at the animated feature, and I savored every creamy, peach-laden bite.
Suddenly I saw an elderly man walking toward the porch. “Why, it’s Frank Dalton!” I cried and ran to the door to hug him.
His face lit up with a smile as he said, “Well, the Man upstairs is looking out for me ‘cause you’re just the one I was looking for!” We ambled out to the old picnic table under the majestic oaks and sat down to chat. Frank had come to invite me to his 90th birthday party at the East Walnut Cove Community Park on August 5 from 2-4 p.m.
Before long, we were talking about where he grew up on his daddy’s farm, just a short walk from where we sat on the old Bray farm. Frank remembers walking further on down that road when he was a child—headed with his 10 siblings to Sunday School at Withers Chapel, the church where he is still active today.
Since there was no local high school for black people back then, Frank had to travel to Charles Drew High School in Madison—even driving his dad’s car to pick up other black children. He went to Raleigh several times to talk to the Governor about building a school for blacks in Stokes County. Eventually the State did provide a school bus to Madison until London High School was completed in Walnut Cove, and Frank drove that bus to transport local youth.
After graduating from Charles Drew High, Frank joined the U.S. Army. He rose to the rank of Corporal during WWII and served in the South Pacific in a unit that transported ammunition and supplies over the island from the ships that brought them.
Once the war was over, Frank headed back to Stokes County to marry Mary Pearl Satterfield—a union which has lasted 67 years and produced
six children, 11 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. He says that while raising his children, he emphasized faith, self-respect, education and athletics. At one time, he was First Vice-President of the South Stokes High School PTA and devoted himself to seeing that there was equal treatment for all students, regardless of race or social standing.
But being a black man in the Jim Crow era was not an easy journey. Frank was never allowed to be SSHS PTA President; the organization was disbanded when it was his turn to serve. At Western Electric (AT&T), he was initially only allowed to be a janitor since that position and machine cleaner were the only jobs available for blacks.
Frank joined other men of color to meet with high-ranking personnel to lobby for blacks to be given equal job opportunities. Before long, that came to pass. Frank himself became a security guard and retired after 34 years.
Locally, he made history in other ways, becoming the first black police officer in Walnut Cove and also the first black deputy sheriff in Stokes County—serving in that position for over 16 years. Frank was the first black coach of the first integrated Little League Baseball team in Walnut Cove. He told me stories of those early years—stories that made me sad to think of what used to be, but glad that some progress has been made, thanks to pioneers like Frank.
That “pioneer” coached and encouraged many a young baseball player in Walnut Cove. And I reckon he has lost count of how many baseball games he has sat through, watching his descendants play the game he so loves. There is a game, however, that stands out in memory—a particular one at Yankee Stadium. It was the game in which his grandson, D.J. Mitchell—a North Forsyth High School and Clemson University graduate—pitched after being called up to the Major Leagues to play for the New York Yankees.
Good golly, Miss Molly! You get two baseball fanatics like Frank and me talking about their favorite sport, and you might as well hunker down for the long haul.
Well, the next thing you know, here came my Daddy back from a short trip to Walnut Cove—thrilled to pieces to see Frank sitting there with me. Soon Daddy was adding his two-cents’ worth about how he and his brothers used to play with Frank’s teams when needed—white boys playing for a black man in a 1950’s world where that was not considered the proper order. I listened to them reminisce—Frank almost 90, Daddy about to turn 76—and I longed to turn back time and see the old Walnut Cove Tigers on the baseball diamond.
When I finally went back inside the house, I turned for one more look at the two men who casually sat there remembering the old paths on a muggy July afternoon…..beneath those same old oaks that stood in Grandpa Bray’s yard back when Coach Frank dropped by about 60 years ago to see if any of “the Bray boys” could spare a little time to play some ball.
And I thanked God that I had altered my hectic schedule on this weekday afternoon to step out of the modern world and seemingly back into time……on a sultry summer’s day.
Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at email@example.com. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com.