Hoke Smith Glover, Sr.,Jr. ,and the III
Michael Hoke Smith was born in Georgia in 1855 and died in 1931. He was a baby during the Civil War and later classified as a politician of the New South. In his early life he watched his father, a Professor at Chapel Hill, teach at a University with only 22 students enrolled in 1865. Maybe in the man as witness there is something deposited which holds the sadness of that war. In the post war era he rose in power and eminence fueled in part by prominence as a lawyer and work as owner and publisher of the Atlanta Journal. He later served as the Secretary of the Interior, Governor of Georgia and eventually a Senator in Congress.
In May of 1872, not yet seventeen, Hoke entered the law offices of Collier, Mynatt and Collier as a reader. But by the end of the year the pinch of economic necessity had forced the boy who preferred law to accept a position as a schoolteacher. At the beginning of 1873 he became the village schoolmaster in Waynesboro, the county seat of Burke County, far to the East of Atlanta and just south of Augusta, in the cotton-growing section along the South Carolina border. Waynesboro could claim some nine hundred people, three-fourths of who were Negroes. In this small community the brief career of Hoke Smith the schoolteacher began and ended; it lasted from January to July, 1873. In later years when he campaigned in Burke County, many inhabitants of that area recalled Smith school master days….(Grantham 11-12)
Somewhere in that population of three-fourths Negroes resided my Great Grandmother Sophia Mathis and eventually my Grandmother Netha Lee Sullivan. Whether or not my grandfather Hoke Smith Glover, Sr. was there is another story. Like so many men of so many families he is mystery. I have never seen his picture; but imagine he looks like my own father almost jet-black dark, stately and Senegalese, though that may not be the case. What is certain is that he bears the name of this once Governor of Georgia. The mystery of my own name passed down to me by my father is “why would someone name a little Black boy after a governor of Georgia?” It is a question I have yet to answer and may not take the time to ever find out.
My story is as much my father’s as much as it is my grandfather’s. We come in succession like King’s of a country that never existed. Somewhere around 1935 before my father was born, Hoke Smith Glover, Sr. and my Grandmother Netha Lee Mathis traveled to Ft. Lauderdale. Depending on the day, my father would alternate between they were getting married or simply running away. There in Florida they worked as migrant workers until my Grandfather could not control his hands. He took to the habit of beating my grandmother who somehow managed to get word to my Great Grandma Sophia who in response traveled to Florida in 1940 to bring her daughter home. They returned, my grandmother with bruises on her body, my father holding her hand and walking beside her, my Aunt Julia held in someone’s arms and my Uncle Bill floating in her belly. Grandma Sophia told Hoke Smith to never come near her daughter or again or she would kill him; and she meant it.
Hoke Glover, Sr. returns many years later outside of New York in the early sixties when my father visits him as a recent immigrant from Humboldt, Tennessee and adopted son of Charles E. Lee. “Proffa Lee” as they call him graduated from Tuskegee University with both an undergraduate and master’s degree in Agricultural Science and paid my father’s way to College. He too is my grandfather. It’s the mason jars with canned peaches sitting in the small red painted shacks in back of his house which represent preserving and keeping time. It was Proffa Lee who educated my father from fourteen and paid for his College. In the mid-sixties when Mr. Glover, Sr. finally reappears, Hoke Jr. is already someone else’s son.
After the men meet somewhere in upstate New York, my father returns intoxicated with the spirit of a man he had never known, the coulda been, shoulda been, woulda been Abbey Lincoln spoke about. Here narrative breaks down; there is no telling only longing and possibility, the dream of what might have happened; the shape of the trees roosting themselves on the mountain. Two weeks later Hoke S. Glover, Jr. calls my father and asks him for some money. My father never speaks to him again.
Yet, when he told his story few of the concrete details show up. Instead, it is the laughter or screaming, sadness or joy that mark it. As we drove to New York in the late 70’s it was the drive upstate that triggered the tale of my grandfather’s request for money the first time. It was the first time of many, and I learned each story changes with repeating and the meaning grows in the listener. It was the South in him. O
The Good Times
My father always told stories with a sense of pride that you might overlook if you did not know people from the South. Like numerous others raised below the Mason Dixon line, and many more raised above, he was certain of himself in a silent way. He knew the landscape of this country by literally picking cotton in its fields and then walking its long hallways of the government. Waynesboro, Georgia where he is from is special in the way many small Southern Towns are-the people and the history are welded together like iron. The faces, the walks and the fields are deceptively calm and familiar. The history there is somehow soaked in the fields like rain and mixed with the earth. It is hard to get the picture to tell it’s history. It is a yin culture which in Chinese Culture represents the earth, docility and the receptive; but this does not mean the absence of strength. My father was special and he knew it. In some ways yin meant stay and if this is true, the opposite yang meant go. If this is true, my father like millions of other African Americans reverted to the opposite when he chose to migrate to New York City.
By the time I came to know him, his movements were soft and just outside the passion of self-determination. It was his limited wardrobe, a decent t.v. and duffle bag in the back of his car with a bowling ball, a bottle of vodka and a change of clothes which somehow symbolized the man. The prominent memory I have of him is in his favorite blue shorts, during the mid-eighties which as he entered his mid-fifties showed that his legs were a bit smaller than the stock it appeared he needed for his body. It was his legs then, that seemed to tell the story. They appeared to be wiry like on young men and a bit too small for his body. His belly had grown just a bit; but his stature was still good. After he retired, I saw him only once or twice at a funeral with a suite and tie on. He had returned to a simplicity he learned growing up. This was the man who on one of our many trips South stopped at a gas station selling barbeque and peanut brittle somewhere on 95 and brought a pair of tennis shoes for five dollars he wore until his death.
Many of my mother’s stories portray him with a fire that dimmed by the time I came to remember him. In the late 50’s while serving in the army, he punched a fellow soldier, from the South, who shouted out he looked like a nigger as the men painted their face black for an exercise. The men were climbing a hill and made it another hundred yards where my father punched another man who said the same thing. According to my mother, he got to three before someone told, “Hoke, you can’t fight everybody.” Angry, frustrated and tired he stopped fighting. And it seems, if there is a sadness attached to the map of his life, it is in this metaphor. He seemed to be a man who stopped fighting.
I did not come to these stories until much later in my life, long after he was dead. Thank God, I did not receive them at an early age-they would have served as an approval or a great anger swirling in me which rose up out of the storm of adolescence and the vision of my tiny world as full of obstacles which seemed to have existed before man was created. To have known my father was angry would have suggested the response was appropriate. Instead, I remember at sixteen after I had gotten jumped and stood in his living room passionately talking the talk of young men who drank before they were old enough to drink, he told me he had stopped fighting when he was about my age. With my mother’s story this was a lie; but it worked. For the moment I felt foolish and weighed down with an anger I could not carry. The explosion was a dummy grenade. I wondered what he knew that I didn’t know.
Because I wanted to fight; if not physically, mentally. At the time I was immersed in Malcolm and Black Power; just introduced after leaving the world predominantly white world of my elementary and middle school. His stories and advice were like a constant subliminal message up under the register of our every interaction; and my movement within the map of his life determined my destiny at an early age. If nothing else it was his name typed onto my birth certificate. I heard once, that a child named after a father and in particular the third brings resolution to a long drawn out issue within the family. If that’s true it is this question of history, fathers and mothers my father handed to me in his decision to name me Hoke S. Glover III.
Most of all, I wanted to understand why he left. The sadness of that moment was like so much of the dissapointment we feel as children; what was major and seemed to destroy my whole perspective in the world was common. One had to learn to look at the day with optimism knowing things would never be the same. The task belongs to adults but is given to far too many children. As time went on I looked at him as though his clothes were once mine and I was watching him wearing them, wondering if they fit on my body the same way.
When he was young, he picked cotton and worked the split season. In August and September he was in the fields harvesting cotton. There resistance was the extra weight you peed into the pounds. One stared at the ground. One knew how to behave. When we traveled South his eyes lit up at the sight of cotton. Often he would stop the car on the side of the road, pull some off and place it in my hand.
I met him once in Humboldt, Tennessee while I was attending College in New York to bury my grandfather, Charles Edgar Lee. The night before the funeral I flew into Memphis and was picked up by a kind friend of the family who indulged me twice. I had never been to the city before and wanted to see the Mississippi River and Beale Street. On Beale street we made a quick pass. There the neon was spilling onto the street with the music and the sound of happiness that belongs to a night beginning. It was all so quickly, I promised myself to return. And then once a little ways out of town, he pulled off the expressway and drove me to the edge of a concrete levee. As I looked out into the dark, I could hear the water gurgling; but all I could see was Black.
The next morning we buried my Grandfather. The tiny Church just a walk from his house was packed. Mr. Lee or “Proffa Lee” was a citizen of the highest order in Gibson. He had received his Bachelor’s and Master’s from Tuskegee University in Agricultural Science. Everyone knew him and how smart he was. He was member emeritus of that council of elders in the small Southern Town. He became my grandfather when he adopted my father as a son. The two had met when he came to Waynesboro as a migrant teacher. Mr. Lee had a Pony. Mr. Lee spoke slowly and had a proper way of doing things. Mr. Lee wrote me a letter every single birthday and always enclosed a U.S. Savings Bond.
Later that night, my father and I slept at the house. There was an eeriness in the air. At nineteen years old, I had long ago stopped believing in ghosts; but the mood said my grandfather was not resting. The silence of the country became almost unbearable and I tossed in and out of sleep. My father and I slept next to each other on twin beds at the back end of the house. Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke to find my father trembling in his sleep and running with his legs in the tiny bed. I was petrified and relieved at the same time because I knew some version of what I feared had made an appearance. I went back to sleep.
In the morning, I told my father, “ Last night, I woke up and you were shaking in your sleep and running.” He replied casually, “ I woke up and saw you doing the same thing.”
One could never be sure if the man was telling the truth. Once I told my Uncle my father had been baptized by Father Divine, somewhere. My Uncle looked me in the eyes and said, “Really?” The question shook my foundation. An old yin man putting one over on his son. I realized then how much my closeness was imagined. The distance allowed me to inflate his stories and manipulate them based on my desire.
Grantham, Dewey. Hoke Smith and the Politics of the New South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1958.