By Lloyd Marcus
It occurred to me that my 86 year old black dad is a man of “firsts” — a born pioneer, boldly going were no other black had gone before.
In 1946, Dad and Jackson were the only black Merchant Marines on their ship and the first “coloreds” to land at the base in St Petersburg Florida. Dad came close to being hung by an angry mob simply for being there.
Dad had a tough beginning. The product of an extra-martial affair, Dad was raised by his aunt, Aunt Nee.
Aunt Nee was a pretty remarkable woman. Though she never graduated high school, Aunt Nee (Rev. Anita Bethea) was extremely articulate, well read, a great singer (reminiscent of Mahalia Jackson), a gifted speaker, student of the Bible and pastor of her own storefront church in Baltimore, Maryland.
I asked Dad what kept him, growing up as a fatherless black child, on the straight and narrow, not getting into crime or drugs. Without hesitation, Dad replied, “Aunt Nee!”
I knew what Dad was talking about. Aunt Nee had this way about her. Her approval felt important. Aunt Nee babysat me. “Lloyd Marcus, you should be ashamed of yourself.” A spanking for my naughty behavior would have felt less painful.
She was a born teacher; no lazy or sloppy speaking was tolerated. Aunt Nee sent me to the corner store. “Ask the grocer for U-nee-da Biscuits”. She distinctly pronounced each syllable.
When Dad was a teen, he was really excited about the latest fashion craze, the zoot suit. Despite his pleas, Aunt Nee refused to allow Dad to purchase a zoot suit because she thought only hoodlums wore zoot suits. That is called parenting, folks.
An entrepreneur since age ten, Dad shined shoes at the bus station on weekends; proudly hauling in a bountiful $1.25 from shoe shines and tips. Dad paid rent to Aunt Nee, treated himself to a day at the movies with popcorn and purchased his first article of clothing; a t-shirt. Dad bragged to his buddies, “I’m buying my own clothes now.” You can not get such a feeling of self esteem, confidence and pride from cradle-to-grave welfare.
Dad said he and a buddy were misbehaving once on a public bus; nothing serious, but a bit annoying to passengers. A woman said, “It’s how they were raised.” Dad said her comment cut like a knife and stopped him in his tracks. He knew Aunt Nee had raised him better.
Aunt Nee and Dad had a tradition of beginning the new year on their knees in prayer. As a young adult partying in bars on New Year’s Eve, Dad would run home just before midnight to begin the new year on his knees in prayer.
Dad recalled, as a young Merchant Marine, flirting with a much older woman. The beautiful 31-year-old was sitting on his lap, and everything was going great until he accidentally replied to something she said with, “Yes Ma’am”. Overhearing, a fellow sailor chuckled and said, “It’s hard to break way from that home training.”
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Dad was a typical young person, but never strayed too far from the foundation Aunt Nee instilled in him.
I asked Dad, “With no role model, what made you pursue things not typically pursued by blacks?” Dad replied, “I don’t know. Whenever a door opened, I walked through it.”
In the 1950s, Dad was one of a few blacks who broke the color barrier to become a Baltimore City Firefighter.
Dad was Baltimore City’s first black Firefighter of the Year, two times.
Dad was Baltimore City’s first black paramedic.
Dad was the Baltimore City Fire Department’s first black Chaplain.
An exclusive country club offered a special reduced membership rate to “all” firefighters. Dad noted the word “all”. He joined the club. Dad took my younger brothers Jerry and David for a swim in the pool. A stunned black staffer approached Dad in the locker room, “How on earth did you get in here?” When Dad and my brothers got into the swimming pool, the white members exited the pool. Dad kept coming back and eventually the behavior of the white members changed.
After the passing of the Civil Rights bill, Dad took our family to a whites only drive-in-movie. Dad said the ushers directed our car, “That’s it, that’s it, keep going”. Upon realizing that the ushers had guided our car through, out of the drive-in-movie, and back to the main road, Dad and my mom erupted into laughter. As Dad was telling me the story he had difficulty containing his laughter. He still thinks the incident was quite funny.
That is who my dad is, an easy going, good-hearted and upbeat remarkable man.
Years ago, I wrote a tribute song to Dad tilted, “Real Man”.
At 86, Dad’s mind is as sharp as ever. He still pastors four churches. Praise God! I am extremely grateful for every day, I have him in my life.