His Role as both Uncle and Daddy to his Sister's Children . . . . .
George was quite "the man" in 1908 when his sister died suddenly and left 11 children in need of housing and parental care. George hurriedly built the 34 by 16 foot two story frame building facing Rt. 33 to greatly expand the small frame house that he and Mamie had bought in 1900 from Andrew C. Barkman. George and Mamie took in at least 7 of the younger children as four older children were from another man and able to start working on the oyster boats. He and Mamie never legally adopted the children and they retained their last name (Johnson) - but George and Mamie toiled to raise those 7 children and were "proud parents". George became known as "Uncle Daddy" as he was both their Uncle and their Daddy.
On attending School for one day -
According to his nephew Bill Cole, he would come down from New Jersey in the summers and "Uncle Daddy" would find him work picking tomatoes, string beans or corn. At the end of one hot day of working in the fields, young Bill (probably around 12 years old) was sitting on the front porch when George came out and sat down next to him. He recalled asking his "Uncle Daddy" what he thought about school. The following conversation ensued . . . .
Young Bill - "Uncle Daddy, what did you think about school?"
George - "Well . . I didn't like it very much. When I was about six, I was told to get my good clothes together as I would be going to school the following Monday." That Monday morning, George walked with his older sisters several blocks through the woods to the one room school house for the colored children. He sat down and noticed the teacher writing on the blackboard - something about the 3 R's. At noon, the school broke for lunch, and young George decided to walk home - never to return to school again.
Bill - "You just got up and left school?"
George - "Yep . . . I told you I did not like it very much!"
I can just imagine the conversation young Bill had with his mother as she drove him back to New Jersey at the end of that summer.
On his "Final Arrangements" when he passed . . .
Toward end of George's life, the other black men at Alfred Chester's Barbershop in town (Fremont Ave) asked George what he would like to have them do for his funeral and burial. George emphatically stated that "he did not want to be funeralized by that dam church" - George stated that the Methodist Church talked about some high purpose and taking care of your fellow man and the children on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the week little was done to follow through on the message of Sunday morning. When George died in 1954 (at 87, far outliving his contemporaries), his funeral service was held at his home and he was buried with other members of his family in the neglected burial grounds behind "Big Al's" - a few blocks from his house.
On driving his truck and how most fenders were bent . . .
George was one of the first people in this area to buy a truck (pre-World War I ) as he needed it to deliver milk, eggs and ice (ice boxes preceded modern refrigerators). In those days (early 1900's), the Miles River would freeze over in the winter months and they would saw up large blocks of ice and store it in the "Ice House" for use in the warmer months. After buying the truck to replace his horse drawn wagon, he managed to land the exclusive contract to haul the ice to all the seafood packing houses at Navy Point in Town (the current site of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum) or to the large seafood packing houses out at Tilghman Island. His friend James "Sawdy" Thomas told me that George never mastered how to use the clutch and the truck would lurch forward, the gears would grind, and you knew George was at the wheel. When his friends would point out how dented the fenders were after a few years, he would tell them "I can always buy a new one". During the Great Depression in the 1930's, George had two viable cash businesses - delivering milk and eggs and lots of ice to all the seafood packing houses. When others including the whites in town struggled during the Depression years, George was "well off" and was reported to have helped his "colored friends" get through those difficult years.
On having the funds in the Bank to Cover His Checks . . .
George apparently did not like to pay cash, and would often write checks that bounced as he never balanced his check book according to Sawdy Thomas. When challenged by someone holding one of his bad checks, he would simply just write another one. George apparently just thought of them as pieces of paper . . . not quite the "guarantee to pay" that most of us associate with a check that someone would give us for payment.
George's Politics . . . .
When George wanted to buy the house on Rolles Range Road in 1900, the local bank owned by a Republican turned him down. Another bank owned by a Democrat agreed to finance his mortgage. Later at Alfred Chester's barbershop, George would challenge his fellow blacks that still placed their money in the "Republican Bank" - "what have the Republican's done for you since the emancipation of slaves by President Lincoln in 1863?" It is hard to imagine how the political pendulum has swung since the late 1800's as the black communities have become largely Democratic in recent years - especially since WWII.
George's Guiding Principals . ..
It is fascinating to go back over a hundred years and understand the forces shaping the leading members of the black community. Booker T. Washington who was sent to Tuskegee, Alabama to start the Tuskegee Institute, Frederick Douglass - the great abolitionist, and William E. Dubois - the first black man to graduate with a PHD from Harvard University. George clearly followed the teachings of Booker T. as evidenced by what he wrote about in his pamphlet "Constructive Thinking". The history of the post Civil War period and the emergence of the black middle class in the 20th century is quite fascinating given the dramatic differences in how the great minds in the black community approached slavery, reconstruction, and the rights of the black man in our society. George Brooks who followed the approach recommended by Booker T. Washington often would "lecture" his fellow blacks late in the day at Alfred Chester's barbershop on Fremont Street in town. Not everyone agreed with George, but he was outspoken and would challenge his colleagues to "get to work" and try and build a better society for all to enjoy. He may not have gone to school, but he could read and write. And he would often be found sitting under the mature trees on his property reading from Booker T. Washington and other writers along with the Bible. Born of slave parents (from the Rolles Plantation at the end of Rolles Range Road) he set out as a teenager to build his own business from a horse drawn wagon, was one of the first men in this area to buy a truck (pre-WWI) and had two thriving cash businesses that allowed him to survive the Great Depression and emerge with one of the largest homes of any black man in this area. What he did for his sister's children and other black's in his community is a tribute to an outstanding man who started life with very little and emerged prosperous and a model for a "life well-lived". He and Mamie both died in 1954 - they both reached the age of 87 - a remarkable achievement given the limited health care available for blacks in the "Jim Crow" era.
wfw - June 2020