By Jacob Bembry
Greene Publishing, Inc.
“I knew Ray Charles before he knew himself,” said Thomas Lane, who predates the famous former Greenville resident by five years. Pointing to the west, he said, “His house is right down the road there.”
“Do you want some real news?” one of his friends pipes in. “They put his house in the wrong place.”
The men who gathered each day under a tree next to the S&J Deli in Greenville all agree on it. They tell this writer that Charles’ childhood home had been on the other side of the street, and when it was refurbished, they put it in the wrong place.
Lane and friends, Leroy Scott, Jesse Hunter, Fred Hampton, Frank Howard and Jimmy Scott were all gathered beneath the tree on a Thursday afternoon. Greenville residents commonly refer to the oak as the “Tree of Knowledge.” Some days, a few others join them.
All of the men sitting under the tree worked in tobacco at one time or another in their lives. When the question was asked to them, the answer came back “What you talking about? We all did.”
Leroy Scott said, “I’m the youngest one here and I worked in tobacco, too.”
Scott served eight years in the Army, joining in 1988. When asked if he had been in any wars, he responded that he had been to Bosnia, “If you can call that a war.”
The other men said, “Yeah, because they were fighting over there.”
Jesse Hunter is a veteran of World War II. He served in the Seventh Army in England, France and Germany. Commanders of that component included General Dwight Eisenhower and General George S. Patton. Patton, then a lieutenant general, took command of the Seventh Army aboard the USS Monrovia. This led to the Seventh Army’s motto: “Born at Sea, Baptized in Blood.” It later became “Born at Sea, Baptized in Blood, Crowned in Glory.”
Frank Hampton went into the Army right after the Vietnam War. Most of his time was spent in Europe.
Jimmy Scott was born and raised in Greenville. He joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1974, but never made it to Vietnam. He was on the football team for the Greenville High School Pirates.
Unlike the others, Frank Howard was not born and raised in Greenville.
“I’m from Jefferson County,” he said. He said that he lives on Highway 221 North.
Howard was one of the first students to attend Howard Academy in Monticello.
“I went there when they first opened it,” he said. He said that he was no relation to the people who the school was named after.
When asked if they had any advice they would like to share with the younger generation, a phrase comes out that youngsters should heed: “They need to show respect to their elders.”