Alex George


Alex George

Chef and Entrepreneur

Owner of GB&D

"I like dialogue, which is why the kitchen is open. I like hearing from the customers to see whether there is anything I can do to make their experience better. You can see us back there having a good time. Sometimes, we are a little too rowdy, but it is just because we love what we are doing."

Full Interview

Tell me about why you started GB&D?

I started this business because I really enjoy cooking and I really enjoy working with people. Owning your own restaurant is the easiest way to do both. You can cook and you get to work awesome people. This will probably sound selfish, but I was just tired of working for other people. I wanted to do something on my own and see if I would be able to pull it off. My mindset was, I am investing a lot of time and energy into someone else’s vision (I cooked for a couple years at Stella’s Southern Bistro). So I just really enjoyed cooking and I thought, I can do this better than basically everyone. There are no restaurants like this in Greenville. I didn’t know if it would work, but this is the kind of restaurant I wanted to see happen, so, here we go.

How did you learn to cook?

I would consider myself mostly self taught, or taught by the internet. I am constantly googling. Someone was talking to me about perch fish, and I said “I don’t even know what perch fish is!” The internet is definitely my most used tool in the kitchen.

What forms the aesthetic and culture of this business?

GB&D is counter service— super casual but we are putting out high quality food. Conceptually, there aren’t any restaurants like this in Greenville. There is no head chef here. No sous chef. We just work together and everyone has a say. At the end of the day, if a decision needs to be made, it comes back to me because obviously that is my role as the owner.

This seems unique.

I’m sure this model exists elsewhere in the broader food world, but this was just the way I wanted to run the business. There is no restaurant in Greenville that have been built from the ground up like this. It took a lot of hard work to get here. This team works incredibly hard and I always want to share recognition with them. GB&D is a creative collaboration in many ways.

Tell me about your ingredients.

Our ingredients are as good as they can get. Ninety percent of our food is locally sourced, everything from veggies to proteins. Obviously I can’t get russet potatoes from Greenville, but outside of that, if it is a vegetable and out of season, I don’t use it. Even with tomatoes, I try really hard to get local hydroponic tomatoes all year round. We are still getting fresh local tomatoes in September (we are in the South... you know).

All of our beef and most of our pork comes from Providence Farm, which is in Easley, SC (in Pickens County). We get a large quantity of vegetables from the Reedy River Farms, Crescent Farms, Bio-Way Farms, Thicketty Mountain Farms, from Swamp Rabbit Cafe— I am up there, everyday. It is not super cost effective but they bring in items from all over the region as well as NC and Georgia. Sometimes in the Appalachian region you can get tomatoes for longer. Abundant Seafood is where all of our seafood is sourced. Our shrimp and our Trigger fish, on the menu today is from there. They catch their fish out of Charleston and make deliveries once a week. We try to sell all of it within three days— it is super fresh stuff. Really, really good stuff. Sustainably caught fish, which is important, because fishing is pretty detrimental to the environment. Even Wild Caught USA fish are pretty terrible in terms of sustainability. Shrimpers just catch all kinds of other stuff accidentally. We focus on what is seasonal, local, and caught with sustainability in mind.

I will make exceptions, because while my goal is to be local, if I really like something, like the Anderson Valley beers we carry, I will make an exception.

So how do you put together the menu?

If it is something I want to do, or my team wants to do, we are going to pursue that. If they are in a position where they are having to do things they aren’t excited about, it’s going to show in their work. Our kitchen is not micromanaged. I want to create an atmosphere where people can express themselves.

Tell me about the GB&D team.

I’ve got people in the kitchen with varied backgrounds. Some have never been in a kitchen before, I’ve got a couple employees who come to us from Project Host which is part of the CC Pearce Culinary School. Becca came to us from Charleston, Chris came to us from a restaurant he started. He is an incredibly talented cook. We are trying to pull in people who are talented at what they do and who just might not care about being super fancy. They just want to put out really good food. If there is something a team member wants to try, we are going to work together to figure it out. In the kitchen there are 100 ways to do any one thing.

You seem to really prioritize the cultivation of your working culture.

When it comes down to it, businesses are only successful if the people there are happy and invested. Turnover is the highest cost in the kitchen. If you get people who stick around, who you can trust to take responsibility, it allows you to do so much more, to be so much more flexible. We are at a point where I think, we have our routine on lockdown and so we can start reaching out more into the community.

What might that mean for West Greenville?

That has been the goal for a while. I am still thinking through our methodology, but being philanthropic as a restaurant has always been my goal. It is not the primary goal. Cold hard facts: you have to strive toward being successful to sustain a business. We are a part of the Sunday super this year and we are planning to do more, but I am just not sure what is the most beneficial. We have considered having a menu item that is in red, and 25% of the proceeds go toward cause we choose.

Who are you looking toward as you think through this?

The primary organization I see really doing good through food in Greenville is the Culinary school up the street. The Culinary School raises money for the Soup Kitchen. They advocate for people who are unemployed or under-employed and for nine weeks they train these individuals to work in a kitchen so they will have marketable skills. These people are actually trying to do good through their food. The students there, everyday, make lunch for 300 kids and then additionally learn basic culinary skills. Every third Thursday they do a dinner over there, a ticketed dinner which is delicious, and they will often bring in guest chefs or students who have graduated. It is incredible.

You have collaborated a bit with Mill Village Ministries, correct?

I am always open to being approached. We make dinners for the Nasha Lending Group when they do their classes. They are part of the Mill Village Ministries. It is an entrepreneur class for women of color who want to start their own businesses, a group majorly under-represented  in the business sector across the world. It’s a three hour class, and they have tons of resources, as well as micro loans. The Mill Village is great-I miss the market! I used to go down there quite a bit.

You seem passionate about people, about hospitality.

I want people to feel super relaxed and super comfortable. Because that is how I want to feel. I don’t want to feel doted upon or bothered. I want to know, if I need something, it will be available to me, I want to feel like I can ask stupid questions. If you have never had trigger fish before I am more than happy to tell you all about it. We are all in process. Learning. People who have an interest in learning, I really respond to that. If someone asks me a question which causes me to reflect a bit more deeply, I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

There is a really open exchange between those in the dining area and those in the kitchen.

I like dialogue, which is why the kitchen is open. I like hearing from the customers to see whether there is anything I can do to make their experience better. You can see us back there having a good time. Sometimes, we are a little too rowdy, but it is just because we love what we are doing.

So that is intentional, the openness of the space?

I have been in environments where I felt like I didn’t have a voice, and I don’t want anyone to feel like that. Often, chefs have this mentality that, it’s my way of the highway. Which is easy to do in the kitchen because it is stressful and intense, and everything is moving super super fast all of the time. But it can still be respectful. I don’t have to yell and throw things. I can sometimes struggle with that because that was the way I was trained, but I recognize that I make mistakes just like everyone else and so I try to afford everyone the same level of respect I would like myself.

Giving people dignity in a way…

Not to be clique, but, you just got to be nice to people. You have to build relationships because that is going to pay off in the long run. People are a lot more forgiving when you admit, hey we aren’t perfect, but we are trying really hard, and I’m not claiming this will be the best food you ever have.

In conversation with you sister Lindsey (owner of the Village Grind) I learned that your family and experiences of hospitality growing up where hugely informative for both of you.

My parents are probably the best hosts you can imagine. It is always at the cost of their own comfort that they will make people feel comfortable. They will just go above and beyond. Growing up, if someone was coming over, you made sure the house was clean, that you looked moderately clean…If our guest was even remotely hungry there would be something wonderful on hand to serve them. They wanted to make people feel as comfortable and at ease as possible. That sort of mentality just carries through. I will see someone I know, who might walk back into the kitchen and I say, “Quick! Everyone clean up the kitchen!” On some level, it is a pride thing. We want to be proud of the work we are doing.

And a lot of that came from your parents.

Respect was hardcore drilled into us, growing up. You don’t agree with someone? Well, you can still be courteous and respectful. At the very most, you can stay clear, but my parents were the two kindest people you will ever meet and while I am not nearly as kind as they are, some of that did rub off.

How many of your siblings work with you?

If I could get my oldest brother to work here, at least one day, all six of us will have worked in the same building. Stacey and Jay work here, but I can never get Jay to clock in. He’ll just come by to help me shut down or as needed.

You and Lindsey are doing a lot to set the bar for culture makers in West Greenville.

The main reason I am in the Village is because of Lindsey. Lindsey put herself at pretty big risk by opening her coffee shop. No one knew about this area except the artists, no one considered this an up and coming neighborhood before Lindsey created a space for people to gather and start building culture. I don’t think she gets enough credit for that. Bigger places with more money get credit. She is the driving force behind a lot of the growth that has moved to this area. My mentality was, I would like to start this business, Lindsey needs someone else to plant some roots, to establish that, yes, this is an area that can become successful. That huge hole in the wall (between our  businesses) was a decision we made intentionally.

Your proximity to each other has been mutually beneficial.

It has allowed her to increase business, and the added traffic has been great. I don’t think I am speaking out of turn to say we drive business to each other. What we are doing is pretty unique. There just are not a whole lot of independently owned businesses that weren’t fronted by a ridiculous amount of money. We did this—obviously there is money involved— but it was not like we had multi-million dollar investors who manufactured this success for us. Lindsey’s hard work is to thank for that. She is so quiet and such a hard worker, you rarely hear her talk about how hard she works. The Village Grind is her heart and soul down there. But she is so caring and nice, you will never see any push back when people start to step on her toes. We get compared a lot to other people, and that is never what we wanted. We aren’t trying to be like anyone else, because this is just what we enjoy doing.



Alice Philips


Alice Masters Phillips

West Greenville Community Member. Worked in Brandon Mill. Started the Philips Income Tax Business. Graduated from Parker High School.

"I was fast. I would catch up my work, run up to the company store, buy myself a piece of cloth, go back and catch my work up, and run home, cut me out a skirt, go home at five o’clock, sew it and wear it that night to go skating. A Broomstick skirt: they just gather."

Full Interview

Alice, tell me about growing up in the Brandon Mill Village.

We all had chores. We made our beds. Ironed everything. We had to do everything. One time I went to the skating rink and I didn’t empty my bath water and when I come home, my Dad had gotten a tin tub and had set it on my bed to teach me a lesson. I didn’t do that anymore.

Nobody had cars except the boss-men, the supervisors. You just walked everywhere you went. It was mostly church that people went to.

Tell me a little bit about your family.

Well there were six children: three boys and three girls. And I was the oldest girl and I have a brother, he will be 97 this year, Oscar. He has been in the hospital up at Furman in rehab and he is going to be back on Saturday. It’s up on Whitehorse Road. He got pneumonia and they had to put him in the hospital. He was out cutting his grass, trimming his shrubs, and his hedges. He plays golf and he walks still. He was the oldest. Oscar, Charles, Alice, Hazel, Stella, and Wallace. He’s still living. Daddy was 99 when he passed away. I got to tell you something funny about him.

About your Dad? Please.

They built a new bridge across the Saluda River. It was about four to five miles from where he lived and he went up there one day— Elferd Masters— and he went up there and said to the man, “Today is my ninety-third birthday and I want to say I walked across the bridge on my birthday.” And the man said, “Old timer, you think you can make it all the way across this bridge? Over there and back?” And Elfred said, “Well, I walked five miles to get here!” That gentleman said, “Alrighty then.” And then he had to walk five miles back home!

This is starting to sound like a very industrious family.

I walk every day. I go to Walmart and walk. If it’s not raining. I don’t drive in the rain. They call me that Walking Lady: “Here comes that Walking Lady!” And one time I was walking and this young couple came up behind me— maybe in their thirties and the woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Lady, do you mind me asking how old you are? We have been just watching you walk and we never have seen anybody walk so fast.” I said, “If you don’t walk fast, old age will catch up with you.” So the next week I went to the doctor for a check up and he said to keep that up.

So tell me a little bit more about growing up in the Brandon Mill village.

My mother never worked. She had problems. Home cooking on Saturday. She didn’t believe in cooking on Sunday. On Saturday, she’d bake pies and cakes, a big roast, everything, you know, for Sunday dinner. So when we got done with church, all she had to do was warm it up. And she sewed. She made all our dresses, our clothes. Back then you could buy cloth for a quarter at the company store. And she would take us before school started. Every Friday, when she went grocery shopping, and I’d go one Friday and pick me some cloth. One time I had four pink dresses, my sister had four green dresses and my little sister had four yellow dresses. Those were our favorite colors.

Alice, did you work in the Mill?

Oh, yes. I didn’t mind at all. I was fast. I would catch up my work, run up to the company store, buy myself a piece of cloth, go back and catch my work up, and run home, cut me out a skirt, go home at five o’clock, sew it and wear it that night to go skating. A Broomstick skirt: they just gather. I done that many a time. I told my brother that and he said, “I’da fired you if I was your boss.” I said, “My work didn’t suffer!” I do everything fast.

It was a totally different time…

At one time every one of the mills was running full blast and I mean they’d have 1,000-2,000 employees. But they are all apartments now. Beautiful hardwood floors. They had to have wooden floors, you know, because of the machinery. They had fixed it up so pretty.

What is one of your fondest memories from those years?

The mill company during the war—all the boys were gone and that left us teenagers with nothing to do. They had an old laundry down below the mill and people would take their sheets and pillowcases and things down there to be pressed, ‘cause they did their clothes at home. A separate building behind the mill; I can take you down there if you want. They took it here in the war, all the boys were gone, so the mill officials took that old building and made a skating rink and four lane bowling alley, and I had been skating for four years at Cleveland Park, and so they asked me to be the manager.

Cleveland Park?

After I got out of high school I starting going to Cleveland Park. I’d go into West Greenville, catch a trolley, go uptown, transfer to another bus, and then go to Cleveland Park. It was about 4-5 miles. We didn’t mind walking.

Where did you go to high school?

I went to Parker High School every day. There wasn’t but two high schools. No, three: Greenville High, Parker, and West Greenville. My class, (I was secretary) we had some money left from the last reunion, and everyone moved away and died or something, so we stopped having them. So I called Carl Thackston, who used to be our president, and I told him about it and I said, let’s donate it to Legacy Charter School.

Do you have a favorite memory from high school?

Back then everybody went to the ball games. Parker and Greenville were the biggest rivals. I finished in 1941 and Parker beat Greenville High for the first time. Your favorite memory in the year book? “PBG.” They had a reunion and asked me to speak and what I said was, “I went through the year books and I found out that most of the girls wanted to be nurses, that was their ambition, and most of the boys wanted to go into the service. Everybody's favorite memory was ‘PBG.’” Everybody went to the ball games. Nobody missed them. Everybody went to P/G game.

Tell me about being the manager of the skating rink.

It was open every night except for Sunday. And I’d go at five o'clock when I got off from work and let the little kids skate and then open back up at seven for the adults. Rollerskating. Now it was hard to get skates during the war—boot skates—and they (the kids) would order them and they would say they didn’t have any. I would order them and they would send them. So I had to order everybody's skates, probably because I had ordered so many of them. Probably thirty to forty.

Every Mill village had two churches, a Methodist and a Baptist, and there are a lot of Mill Villages: Brandon, Woodside, Judson, Mills Mill, Monaghan. I’d see a lot of them at Sunday school and I’d say, now if I don’t see you at Sunday school you can’t come skating. Now I don’t have any authority to do that but all of the sudden I’d get people saying, “Hey Ms. Alice, hey Ms. Alice!” to make sure I saw them. And I taught a lot of the kids to skate. A lot of the kids. And I had one boy— well he is dead now, but— every time I’d see him in the store or somewhere he would say, “I will never forget you teaching me to skate— those were the best times I’ve ever had was at that skating rink.”

You didn’t stay there for too long, though did you?

What happened was that I was working in the mill, and the first year that people made enough money to file taxes they sent them a man from Internal Revenue Service to help them. Well I went down to get mine filled out and I picked one up (nosey, you know) and I filled it out, but I waited my turn. When it got to be my turn he asked, “Who filled this out?” and I said, “I did” and he said, “Who do you work for, I need some help!” I told him and he went to talk to my bossman and he let me go and work with him the next two or three days. Well, he checked the first ten, and then he just quit checkin’ them, you know.

Did you continue to help the Revenue Service?

The next year they didn’t send anyone and then everyone remembered that I done their’s, so they would bring them to me and I’d run quick to do them! They’d run my job— and I’d go to the restroom and fill out their taxes in the Mill. So they’d buy me a coke or run my job while I was doing their taxes.

Wow! So you became a hot commodity.

There was a magistrate in West Greenville around the corner from the main street and he was doing taxes. He was just getting them from all the mills. And was charging them a dollar, two dollars, three dollars, something like that. He heard about me and he was just swamped, getting them from all the mills. He said to me, “If you can get off for the rest of the tax season and come up here and work, I’ll give you everything you make, I need the help!” And my boss let me. I never did go back to the mill.

When did this happen?

1941 is when I finished school so that happened probably 1947 or 1948.

How much were mill workers making at that time?

They were making maybe thirty dollars a week or something like that and the mills furnished the homes. You paid a dollar a room a week. They furnished the water and everything. The company store had credit. They had groceries and Momma, on Friday morning, Momma would buy the groceries and they would bring them by in a truck. Nobody had cars. They delivered to everyone. That was a long time ago.

So what did you do after that first year, out of the mill, working for the magistrate?

I had an income tax business for thirty-eight years on 1232 Pendleton Street (they have gone and changed everything now). Back then there were no H&R blocks, just a few lawyers doing taxes and I was getting customers from all the mill villages. My brother, Oscar, he helped me some and I had a brother that worked for me. And a good friend that worked for me.

You were so entrepreneurial!

I loved figures and accounting. Anything to do with accounting. I’ve done a little bit of everything. I’ve worked in personnel, just about everything. I did a lot of audit work too. That’s what I enjoyed the most with my tax income business. My friend came to work for me for about twenty-five years. She still calls me during tax time (she lives in a nursing home in Anderson) and she’ll say, “I need to get my income tax filled out; do you know anyone that could do that for me?” Changing her voice and all.

What happened to your business?

I sold my tax business. They made me sign this waiver. It was called Phillips Income Tax.

Where you married at this time?

Oh yes. Charlie (Thurston) Philips. Well, he was overseas, at first, you know, for three years. But I was still working in the mill at that time. 

Did you have many admirers before this?

He said he knew I was waiting for him, he just didn’t know who with. Because I skated all the time you know. I really didn’t date anyone, it was just skating and I don’t call that dating. A lot of the boys that came to Cleveland Park were out at the airbase. You know about the airbase here? They didn’t have cars you know. A bus would take them from the airbase to the skating rink and pick them up about ten o'clock. I don’t call that dating when you are just skating. But I met a lot of nice boys. Every time they left they said, “Please write to me.” I’d give them my address and I’d get letters and then, you know, I mailed the newsletters to all the servicemen, I’ve got copies of a lot of them. I couldn’t wait to get home to see how many letters I got.

I got a nasty letter from the mother of this boy who came up from Texas and took a real liking to me. Even came to church one time. Rode the bus. He knew about Thurston. His mother told me I had broken his heart.

How did you and Thurston meet?

They had an ice cream parlor down in West Greenville and after church on Sunday night we would walk down there and get an ice cream for a nickel. Ponder’s Ice Cream Parlor. We were out there one night and I saw him and a boy I grew up with standing outside. They kept looking in at us (I was with my sister and two other ladies) and I thought- they are looking at us, you know…

So he told that boy, pointing in at me, “You know that girl? How about introducing her to me?” And he said, “She is a good girl. She won't go out with you.” (Because he drank, you see.) Well, the other boy left and he kept standing out there and when we went out, about to walk home, he came up to me and said, “Can I walk you home?” He was real good looking. Blonde hair and everything. So I said, “Yeah, but you'll have to walk us all back. I am with the other girls too you know.” So then the next week he was down at Fort Jackson in Columbia. I got a— I don’t know if you have ever seen a wooden postcard, like you etch— well, it was like that, but it had a verse on it:


If I hadn’ta metcha, I wouldn’ta known ya,

If I hadn’ta known ya, I wouldn’ta liked ya,

If I hadn’ta  liked ya, I wouldn’ta told ya,

But I did, I do, and I does.


My oldest granddaughter thought that was the funniest thing so she has got it.

How did you communicate with him while he was at Fort Jackson?

Then, we didn’t have a telephone and he asked me if any of my neighbors had a phone and they did so I told them he might want to call me sometime and they said that was alright. But he didn’t. He’d come home every weekend until he went overseas. We dated about 6 months before he went overseas and then he was gone thirty-eight months. But everyone had sons and brothers and fathers in the service.

So it sounds like you waited for him to come back…

He was a good- looking blonde with blue eyes. I tell my boys neither one of them is as good looking as he is. They say, “Momma!” He was about six feet and two inches. He knew he was good- looking and he kept trim and all that. We had some rough times and some good times. We hadn’t been married long and he got sick and started spitting up blood. We went to the doctor here and he sent him on to the VA in Columbia. What happened was that he went back too soon after having his tonsils removed. Something had become embedded in his lungs and they had to remove part of his lungs. That is why we didn’t have any children for 5 years, it was because we were waiting for him to get better.

Is Thurston still living?

Thurston died in 1993. Died at 73 years old and born in 1920. It was devastating. He had that lung cancer. He never did get over that. He lived three weeks. He used to smoke. He quit but it was too late. We already had the boys through school so nothing changed financially, and we had good cars and everything. I still miss him. The Lord takes care of me…We got married 1945. He stayed over there for three years. I didn’t have a car when I was first married for about six months. We walked to work. You know where the St. Francis Hospital is? We lived there. My husband wasn’t working at Brandon so we couldn’t get a house over there. You had to work over there to be able to get a house. And, uh, we had to walk to work and that is a long way. Probably two miles and then he worked at Woodside. He would walk me down to Brandon and then he would go on to Woodside. When we were married we got this house right above the hospital and lived up there until he got a job at Brandon, then they gave us a house.

What was your family life like?

Well I was married and had two boys. One was born in 1950 and the other in 1953 and I didn't go to college because back then people didn’t have the money to do that but during tax time I would save 90% of my tax fees and I worked the rest of the year somewhere, so when my sons went to school, college, they went to USC and Columbia. When they finished they didn’t owe a dime and I didn’t owe a dime. When they sent a bill, I paid it. I didn’t get to go to college but I made sure my children did. They are both retired now. One of them worked for Michelin for 42 years, and the other worked for Bridgestone Tire. Both of them working for the two biggest tire companies in the world. Larry and Roger. I have 3 granddaughters, none of them are married. The eldest is 37 the next one is 34, home from teaching school in Lebanon. Then Maggie, who is a nurse, is 30.

You worked so hard to provide for your family.

One time someone asked, “Alice, how many jobs did you work?” One night I sat down and got to 39 then stopped. It was whoever called me first, you see I couldn’t have a full-time job. If I couldn’t find one on my own I would call Manpower and they would send me somewhere. Sometimes, when I worked for Manpower, they would call me the next year, not even go through Manpower. Just on my own. But I never was without a job.


Steve Pace


Steve Pace

Owner of Pace Jewelers

"Honesty and integrity are the values we all bring to this business which I believe set it a part and make it a valuable business. We treat every customer with the utmost respect whether they are spending $10 or $10,000. Your reputation means a lot in the jewelry business where we sell expensive items that many people don’t know anything about."

Full Interview


Steve, tell me about Pace Jewelers.

The Business was started in 1948 by my father, Edgar Pace. We were actually across the street then, where the Village Grind and GB&D are now. It was initially a watch repair shop and gradually began selling different watch brands like Bulova, Elgin and Benrus. Then adding more bridal jewelry and gift items.

Did you work in the shop growing up?

Not much.  I played a lot of sports in highschool— I went to Parker— and played basketball and baseball. I did make up some pearl earrings in the summer Dad used to pierce ears with. I went to Clemson for a year and studied forestry, but after a year, lost my focus and decided to go into the air force. I spent three and a half years in the air force. I was stationed for basic training in Texas at Lackland Air Base, then I went to tech school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. It was a big place! And hot. I remember it was a hundred and something degrees when I left. I was also stationed at Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps base in Jacksonville, NC.

When did you return to Greenville?

I was 23 when I came back to Greenville. When I came back, I knew I wanted to give the store a chance. It worked out for me to come back and work with my Dad. I had a child at the time, and I didn’t know if I wanted to go back to school, or work here in the store, but my Dad offered me a position and I knew it would be a good opportunity. It was a great chance to support my growing family. From the individuals that worked here, I learned watch repair and jewelry repair. I did some short-term seminars, workshops, which were a few weeks, or two week classes. That was in Little Rock, Arkansas. I also graduated from the Geological Institute of America’s correspondence diamond grading course.

Were you in the space across the street?

No, we moved to this new location in 1960. Previously it was a cafe. My dad, renovated the space to expand it to house the inventory he had at the time. In the 60’s and 70’s, a lot of jewelry stores carried small appliances, luggage, and even televisions. He carried radios, china, crystal, and sterling silver that was for registered brides. There were a lot of brides from the Mill community: hundreds were register here over the years. That was probably our heyday for the business. We built up a good reputation, and the business we got from the bridal clientele played a big part of that.

How did the business begin to evolve?

It has been changing greatly in the last few years, and we saw the negative side of the community changes in the late 70s and early 80s when the textile mills started closing. They were lean times, but we were very blessed to have reliable customers who wanted to support us from the wider Greenville audience. The bridal registering business, like china, crystal and silver went to the department stores at that time and that was challenging because that was such a big part of our business. But we always focused on quality work, quality customer service, and quality products.

What we learned is that we had to adapt to the conditions we were presented with, and so we began to do more repairs and selling more jewelry. That has been our focus the last 25 years.

During that time, were you taking more responsibly in the shop?

My Dad got cancer in the late 70’s, and by the mid ‘80s I was taking more of the responsibilities of the shop on myself. He was still able to work for about 12 years after getting lymphoma cancer, and then did pass away in 1994.

What does Pace Jewelers look like today?

Mostly, we sell diamond jewelry mainly engagement rings and wedding bands. About 25% of our business is from doing repairs for jewelry, watch repairs, battery replacements and the like. The rest of it is selling fashion rings, earrings, and necklaces, bracelets and things of that nature.

In just the last 5 years we have gotten a lot more traffic. There has been a gradual increase in business the last 10 years, with the most dramatic increase this past 5 years. We did a facade renovation last year where we participated in a city-run program that helped to subsidize renovations. We got all new windows, a new door, new overhang; We painted the sides and just put up a new sign.

What sort of interactions do you have with West Greenville?

We are part of the business association. I may not have time to go to all the meetings, because of various obligations but we do try to stay involved. We also support the arts community. Last year we committed 5% of our sales to five different non-profits in this area: the Free Medical Clinic, GCCA, Triune Mercy Center, Safe Harbor, and the Soup Kitchen on Academy Street.

When you look at the West Greenville Community, what do you hope or envision for the Village?

We have some exciting plans for developing this business, which we will unveil within the next year. What I can say is that everything we do is geared toward better serving the Upstate.

What has contributed to the success of Pace Jewelers?

What makes our business successful is the quality of our products and the quality of relationships we provide to our customers. This is the issue with online sells. People want to see and tangibly feel the jewelry that they are purchasing. They can better gauge it’s quality, see how it was made, and interact with the individuals selling it.

Tell me about your team!

We have four employees, and a part-time employee. Jason is the manager. He is great! A personable salesman and does a great job taking care of jewelry repair, diamond and colored stone setting, and watch repair. Rebecca takes care of our social media, she manages our inventory and specializes in pearl restringing. Minnie came to us just recently with 6 years of retail jewelry experience. Her specialty is sales, watch repairs, and jewelry repairs. I do most of the administrative tasks along with my wife, Teresa who handles the bookwork.  I also do quite a bit of watch repair. We all enjoy seeing families who have shopped with us for 3 generations or more.

What sets your business apart?

Honesty and integrity are the values we all bring to this business which I believe set it apart and make it a valuable business. We treat every customer with the utmost respect whether they are spending ten dollars or $10,000. Your reputation means a lot in the jewelry business where we sell expensive items that many people don’t know anything about.

Lindsey Montgomery


Lindsey Montgomery

Entrepreneur and artist. Owner of the Village Grind.

"For me, coffee is a way to bring loved ones and community together. I loved it from a very early age."

Full interview

Lindsey, tell me a little bit about yourself.

I am from Greenville, born and raised. Our family did move to Georgia for a bit, but we came back to Greenville, and it really is home. We moved when I was going into 9th grade, so I went to high school there and started at Dalton State College, looking at a degree in business. However, my whole family moved back to Greenville; my father was led to return due to a job opportunity, and at that point, I left school and moved back myself, starting three jobs. I worked as a barista at Spill the Beans, I worked in a chiropractic office, and at Anthropologie.

What cultivated you passion for the service industry?

The Village Grind was born out of a love for coffee. Coffee was such a big part of my family and my culture growing up. My mom is one of 11, and her family was very much into coffee. There wasn’t a gathering unless we had coffee. For me it is a way to bring loved ones and community together. I loved it from a very early age. My mom would make it for us before we went to school in the morning- as early as elementary school. It is something we have always been surrounded by.

Is your family a part of what you do here at the Village Grind?

I am one of six. I am number five. We share this affinity for space making and community building. My brother Alex George (owner of GB&D which is coming up on its first anniversary) is very involved; however, our businesses are very much two separate entities. One of my sisters works some on the weekends and my parents (Linda and Andy) come whenever they get a chance to stop by and sit down for a cup of coffee.

How did this business begin?

This shop is a childhood dream. I had thought about it so much, I had a plan for what I was going to call it (at that time, it wasn’t the Village Grind). I would sit in class and sketch out what I wanted it to be—designing my logo, dreaming about this place. So it was definitely something I thought about and dreamed about from a very young age, even before high school.

When did things start coming together?

While I was working those three jobs, I was working my shift in Anthropologie, and I had a customer who wanted to know what I wanted to do, and I told her about the coffee shop. I told her I would love for it to be in the Village because I love this area. Through that connection, a woman contacted me who had the keys to this building, and my dad and I came over to see it. While I wasn’t in a place financially to start a business, we sat down for lunch afterward and he encouraged me saying, “Just do what you can; you will never know if you don’t try.” So I put a plan together and connected with a gentleman who was retiring from his dental practice and was interested in starting a coffee shop. I met with both Jim Bolts and Carl Chambers, best friends who graduated from Furman together, and they became my business partners. The space was then vacant, but had previously had several artist studios in the space. So we put the shop together and opened in January of 2015.

Tell me about your produces. What kind of coffee do you serve?

I use Due South Coffee in Taylors, SC. It is important to me to support local community in that way. We use milk from Southern Oaks Jersey Farms in Abbeville, SC. It is so good. The best milk. We make all of our syrups in house. We commission local artists to make our mugs: Darin Gehrke, our neighbor, and Will Donovan. (When I am in a pinch, I go to Marshalls). Our pastries are from Wade Taylor’s Bake Room.

Are you involved with the Village Business Association?

Yes. A lot of the existing businesses are trying to work together. Some are anxious that this area will turn into a downtown “Main Street” sort of space, which is not necessarily what we would like to see.

Were you attracted to this community because of the arts specifically?

Yeah, in school I was studying business but I always really wanted to be an artist. I love the arts. I do all kinds of stuff: painting, drawing, and other things. The painting here (behind me) is by a Village artist, Glory Day Loflin.

How are you creating a distinct aesthetic for your space?

I have made it very warm and inviting. It feels almost, in some areas, like a living room as opposed to a stark, cold store. Another way I create an intentional environment is by helping employees understand that loving our customers is our top priority. I always tell them that it is more important for us to love our people well rather than to make the best coffee in the world. That is very important to me, but it is more important that we treat people with love and kindness.

What is your ultimate vision for the Village Grind?

For it to be a place where my community and neighbors can come and gather to build a stronger community. That is what I would like to see. A hub for the Village.

Mamie (Flamey) Davis


Mamie "Flamey" Davis

West Greenville Community Member. Local Poet and loving Mother.

“I would say I was one of their favorites.”

Full Interview


Flamey, how did you find yourself in West Greenville?

Ok, we moved here from Inman, SC, when I was going into the third grade. Yes, it was VERY country! My Dad wanted to move for a better job. There were three of us girls and one boy. No, four girls, how could I forget my older sister, May Helen?! The two oldest ones are deceased.

Tell me about growing up in West Greenville.

Oh, it was great, you know. We stayed down on Fulton Street, where the duplexes are now. I’ve been here 50 years. Joe Lewis Street for nine years, lived in the Brandon community for four years, and here on Endel for sixteen years.

While you were growing up in West Greenville, was it a pretty tight-knit community?

Yes. I started in 3rd grade at Gower Street Elementary. Now it is a residency for senior citizens. Most of the kids in West Greenville attended. It was primarily an African American community growing up that consisted of some caucasians. My Mom and Dad took care of the kids around here. Everybody would come and sit on our porch. Mamma would fix us food and we would just laugh and talk and play. We were all allowed to go to the end of the road and bag (you know, beanin’).

What were you parents like?

My mom loved to clown around and make everyone laugh. She knew her ABC’s backwards. She taught my granddaughters, Teirrasia and Tiwyay, their ABC’s backwards. She could quote little poems and speeches from when she was a little girl. First she worked over there on Woodside Avenue, her name was Texanna but everyone called her Tex-are-can-a. My dad was Clifford Moorman. He worked at American Spinning and retired there. My dad used to drive to Forrest City daily to pick up bales of cotton. This was through the ‘60s and ‘70s as well as into the early ‘80s. Momma worked for Nannie and Bud Black. She started out ironing clothes for people in the neighborhood and then she worked in Woodside Mill for 18 plus years. She never missed a day. Even when her Dad died, she went to the funeral and then went to work that night. She loved working. She would pull extra shifts sometimes—sometimes it felt like we didn’t have a Momma. She raised Steve Hunt, A. B. Hunt was his dad. She raised Dale Black when Nannie Black died. When she died, they sent a limousine for Momma, and she sat there in the front row, because she was literally part of the family.

Tell me a little bit about the rest of your family.

Well, I went to Sterling High School. I enjoyed it and made the dance team. It was more like a ballet style, you know back then, that was the only dancing they were doing. I was coming out of the 11th grade when I got married to Leroy Nelson. He is deceased now. My second husband, Frank Davis, just recently passed away in February, 2017. We were divorced. All of my kids are grown, and I am waiting on a new great grandbaby to be born in November. His name will be Kharsyn Bleu. We are going to call him KB.

Your family is into nicknames! How did you get yours, Flamey?

Yeah, I used to work down at St. Francis Hospital, downtown. I worked there for 20 years, retired from there, and that was my nickname. I worked on the 5th floor, the cancer patient floor, and Flamey was the name I would sign when I was doing poems for the patients. I would say I was one of their favorites. I started in 1984 and retired in 2004.

Tell me about working at St. Francis.

I worked in housekeeping, but I learned a lot from the doctors and nurses. Because it was like one big family on the fifth floor. The rest of them, I can’t tell you anything about them. I was employee of the month, one September. See, back then, you wouldn’t get anything but $25 but they gave me, $100. One girl had the nerve to say, “Now Flamey, why did they pick you?” Well, let me tell you: I had this patient— they couldn’t stand it on the days I was off because nobody treated them like I did. They nominated me by calling over there to personnel saying they wanted me to be Employee of the Month. I got the check, a cake that said “Way To Go Flamey”, and they gave me a party. I went to Applebee’s with Bill Clause and Linda Williams (she was the supervisor, used to be) and Randy Ramberg.

It sounds like you had a lot of people rooting for you.

Those ladies in housekeeping. They envied me. They couldn’t stand it because I was getting all the special treatment. But it was the way you carry yourself. You know? You have to carry yourself in a decent way to be respected. You know, the doctors had a Ball up at the Hyatt. You know who was there, don’t you?! Flamey was sitting there, sharp as a tack. One of the nurses picked me up in her Mercedes. Flamey was dressed to the max, drinking her champagne with the doctors. It was nice. All the doctors saying, “Flamey you sure look different without that uniform.” I said, “I know I do!”

What really set you apart from some of the other custodians?

I wrote poetry for the patients. And I was polite. I did things for them, if they needed it. I could go into the room and if there was somebody new there that I was just meeting, then I’d say, “Tell me your name”, and if they weren’t feeling good, I’d go right out to my cart and write them a poem. And get right back there and give it to them. It really uplifted people and made them feel so special. I might be in the emergency room, and when I see certain people, just know they need a little lifting up.

Working in the hospital has put you in close proximity to a lot of suffering as well as loss. Was this part of your life before you began your job there?

I always knew how to be with those suffering and struggling with grief. My Granddaddy nicknamed me his little Rabbit. They said he died holding me in his arms and he told them to take care of me, his little Rabbit. When I was young, living up on Fulton Street and someone elderly died, I would be the one to take up the community wreath. And I would be the one to write out their obituary for them. I would always buy a bleeding heart flower for them. 

You have been writing for others for a long time. When did you become interested in writing poems in particular?

My baby son was 32 and he committed suicide and that was when I started writing poems. I put a book of poems together and dedicated it to him, Franklin. Everybody loved the one about the train: “I heard the train a’ comin’.” My favorite on is “The Road to Heaven.” That is the one I always quote to people, the one I say, “Jesus is one of my heroes.” After my son died, I wrote that and it says “I know I can face tomorrow because Jesus lived.”

Your son’s passing was a pretty traumatic experience for you and your family.

My son committed suicide April 27th, 2001. I never did see him, with my nerves so bad. They claim he set himself on fire inside the car. The car wasn’t burned up…He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke. They said they found an empty liquor bottle in the car and they found an empty pack of cigarettes in the car. I told the Fire Marshall, something is out of character there. Because my son did not drink, and he definitely did not smoke. And I knew this. No disrespect or anything, but Black people do not just kill themselves. You know? They don’t set themselves on fire. The Fire Marshall, I told him at the preliminary hearing. Even the doctors over there at St. Francis, they said, Flamey, I’m not falling for that. They said, I believe somebody killed you son and set it up like that. I was told that…but on the Death Certificate, they’ve got, “pending” on there. They don’t know what happened. The only thing they found in the autopsy was the cough medicine because he had a cold. That is all they found. I’m serious, Kat, that is the way it is. I just hope to God he is in peace wherever he is at. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. You can only imagine what the loss of a child does to you. You will never be there same. It takes something away from you. I lost a daughter-in-law, I had a granddaughter be raped, there was just too much.

You have experiences a lot of personal loss throughout your life, how have you been able to cope with that?

My son had been dead just two years when my dad died, and my sister. In 2003. May Helen died of congestive heart failure. We buried her and then my Daddy just a few days later. That hit me hard. My mom died in 2010. Franklin’s wife has breast cancer, now. She isn’t doing too good. She has two kids and three grandkids. I just lost my niece, she had stage 4 brain cancer. She was 52. I didn’t have time to grieve, really for Franklin. You just have to be strong and go on. You can’t let people hold you down and that was exactly what I did. My philosophy is, yesterday is gone. Tomorrow may never be mine.

What enabled you to maintain that strength?

I am strong. And I held up partly because of the people in my life. I know my bossman, Bill Claus, I thank him. I went by last year, and I told him thank you. Because I appreciated working for him. When all that was going on, he said, Flamey, you come back when you feel like it, whatever you need. We’ve got your back. And they did. They collected over $600 dollars for me. I read my poem, Paid in Full, at my son’s funeral. “For the 9 months that I carried you, no charge, your debt is paid in full…” That is what gives me peace, knowing Franklin is in a better place and knowing those in my life are going to help carry me on now without him. That’s just the way it is.

Sarah Ware


Sarah Ware

WGVL Community Member. One of the first African American women to work in a factory after desegregation.

“Everything I do, I try to do it well. I feel like I have done pretty good.”


Full Interview

Sarah, you are 94 and your birthday is coming up!

In December. If I live to see it. I thank the Lord. I ask the Lord, when I get to where I can’t do for myself…He knows.

Tell me a little bit about growing up in West Greenville.

Well, I lived in Anderson County. But my Momma worked over here, and stayed over in town. We would walk over from Anderson county on the weekends…that was a long piece. A long way walking. That sticks out in my mind, how we walked so much. My Daddy died when I was little, and I don’t know anything about him. But she raised us two girls. I was the oldest; My sister’s name was Janie. She passed away 50 years ago.

Were the two of you very close?

Her daughter was three years old when she passed. We were very close.

When you were here in West Greenville while your Mom was working, where did you stay?

We lived on Pack Street, just down the street. Here in West Greenville. The house we lived in was just like this one (my current house) but it had two sides. Can you imagine that? There were a lot of people in and out. We made it. We made it. West Greenville has changed a lot. A real lot. It used to be fields up there where there are houses on Julian Street. It used to be fields all around where those houses are now.

What did your Mom do growing up?

She worked at a boarding house on Woodside. It was the Woodside Boarding House. She would walk to work everyday and now we can’t even walk to the end of the street. We would go to work with her when school was out. She had to clean up the rooms and cook. The Todds ran the boarding house, I can’t think of their first names. We used to go there and make up the beds and clean the bathrooms. She worked there until she died. That was a long time. My Momma was a really good cook. She cooked really different than I did. I always think about the real good chicken dressing she could make. Macaroni. Cakes. She’d make these pound cakes, strawberry cakes. All kinds of cakes.

So when did you make the transition to living in Greenville full-time?

Well, my Mom was born in Anderson, and I was born in Anderson and I came to Greenville when I was about 12.

And how did you end up on Doe Street?

I’ve been on this street...I married my husband Robert Ware in 1943. We stayed in Easley for about a year and then we moved back to Greenville. We’ve been here every since. I met him through my Aunt and Uncle- they lived in Anderson. They knew my husband’s people. That is how I got acquainted with him. He used to live down in Easley and walk into Greenville for a job on the weekend. And he would come by my house. Believe it or not I would run and hide from him. I just didn’t like him. Ended up marrying him. When he came by I used to tell my Momma or sister to tell him I wasn’t there. I had a good many boys come by too see me— not a whole lot— but he kept insisting and just kept coming by. He was a real good person. He was a minister before he passed away. He had that in mind for a really long time but the Lord…He passed away in 1980. He was a minister for more than 15 years, the pastor of Golden Grove in Travelers Rest for 15 years.

Tell me about your life together with Robert.

He was in the army first. We went together for about two or three years and I remember we got married at home, the one down on Pack Street.

So as soon as you got married, Robert went into the army?

Yes, World War II. He was stationed at Fort Bragg and stayed there all his time. He was away two years; came back in ’45. Then he worked in the funeral home and was a pastor until he passed.

Tell me about your family.

We had five children: Robert Jr., Barbara Jean, Calvin, Kenneth, and Sherrilyn. Kenneth was a boy that we raised who was just one of the family. That was my husband’s niece’s son and she wasn’t taking care of them. So we took him in, and someone took the other ones. She had them, but just wasn’t taking care of them. My baby girl, Sherrilyn, was the youngest. She passed away in 2015. She was diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t live two years after that. They all went to the West Greenville School and then to Sterling.

I am sorry to hear about Sherrilyn. Were you all living in West Greenville at this time?

Yes, at that time we moved to Bob Street. And then moved to Doe Street. I done lived around in a circle. There weren’t this many houses out here. We had a store out here— Cason’s Store. We got snacks and things from there. We had a Kash ‘n Karry on Buncombe Road. That is where we got our groceries. I go to Bi-Lo now over by Kmart.

Ok. So let’s back up. What was it like to grow up here in West Greenville?

Well, you know, they say West Greenville is a rough place to stay, but I’ve never had any trouble. When we first moved here, they said it was the worst place to live. But I have been here all my life and I don’t want to go anywhere. It sure was different when I was growing up. Just mostly fields back then. For me, it has been a nice place to live. I remember, my husband bought a lot in Nicholtown, and we were going to build out there, but when we got to talking about building out there, I told him I didn’t want to move! So. We ended up selling the lot to somebody.

Tell me more about the changes that have taken place here.

I have known Reverend Fleming a long time. When he first came over here, he went to different churches and reached out to everybody. He did a lot for West Greenville.

When I was coming up, all the peoples around here was just real close, you know, with everybody. Everybody knew everybody. It’s not that way now. I don’t have a lot— I don’t see them much. I used to have neighbors that we would go out on the porch and holler at one another. Talk to each other. I have a neighbor next door…She is ok. And the house down here… I don’t see them. Even years ago, there were some men in those apartments down there, I hated to see them move. They would come up here, and I would fix them meals and things. They were kind of older men.

How does that make you feel-to see the neighborhood change?

I tell them all the time in my church…I am the oldest person in my church right now. Antioch Baptist Church. I knew just about everybody around here in West Greenville, now I don’t know any of them. The Lord still has got me around, I don’t know what for. But to me, this is a good place to live. And I enjoy all the people— my family around.

After you were married, and starting your family, what was your life like?

I didn’t go to high school. I hated that. I had to drop out to help my Momma. I was hard on her back then. When we were growing up, my sister, she would do the cooking and I would do the cleaning. I never did like to cook. But, I had to cook after I had a family. I worked too. The first job I had, I worked in a factory making dresses. I worked there for twelve years. I never can think of the name of it… I sewed zippers in dresses. They went out of business. When I left there, I went to StyleCraft and they made sleeping bags and I zipped zippers in there. They changed the name to… I don’t know to what. It was on Whitehorse Road. I worked there for twelve years too.

The first job I got sewing, that was the first factory that opened up, you know, for blacks to work in. I prayed about that job, and I got it and loved it. I had wanted a factory job. And I prayed that I would get it, and I did. I was hired the first year they started hiring African Americans. I don’t remember what year. It was after I got married. After 1943 sometime.

That sounds very busy.

I don’t like sitting around, getting wore out. I was workin’ and raising my babes too. I had this lady who would care for them, and she was like a mother to them. That was good because it is hard to get people sometimes to watch your children and take care of them.

After I retired from work, I worked in housekeeping and kept the children for the Ashemores. He was a lawyer. Her name was Laura. And then I worked for the McDonalds, doing housekeeping. They didn’t have any children. He had polio when he was younger and it left him in poor health. I love to stay busy.

What was it like living in Mill country?

My daughter had a daughter who worked in the mill. I liked sewing at that time. It was ok. You know, I never confronted a lot of hateful people. You know, back then, we couldn’t go and eat in certain places, but at that time it didn't bother me. I think the Civil Rights movement was good because it brought us closer together and made us better people. And, you know, we all have differences of opinion, but there is nothing like being together, loving people. I never thought about hating people. If we work together, we can do a whole lot.

What is something you feel proud to share about your life?

I have enjoyed life. Life has been good. I have had some rough days, but in all it has been good. And my children, they all love doing good, and I am thankful for that.

Everything I do, I try to do it well. I feel like I have done pretty good. My mom worked hard. She worked hard trying to keep us put together with food, clothes, keep us warm. She was a really good Momma. And I look back on her life, and she didn’t have much—her husband died when we were small— she didn’t have no help. But she always said she had the Lord. She had strong faith.



Pete McAbee


Pete McAbee

Easley Community Member. WWII Veteran; former Athletic Director of Brandon Mill; current Historian of Brandon Historical Society.

“Our children don’t have the same enthusiasm for the Mill Village. When we get through, it will be gone. It will absolutely be gone.”


Full Interview


You lived in the Brandon Mill village growing up and attended Parker High School. Tell me about that.

Now when I was in the ninth grade, I laid out so many times I had to talk to the assistant principal…He told me, “I can’t understand why you are laying out. You see this?” He pulled out of his billfold two greyhound tickets to Sumpter, and he said, “You know what is down there?” And I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “What?” And I said, “Reform school.” He said, “Well, that is two tickets, mine and yours if you lay out again.” Well, next week I laid out three out of five days. So I went back into school…You see the english and social science teacher that I had, Mrs. Childes, she also taught rhythms, and so these guys in the class knew that if they could get her talking about rhythms and dancing, then there would be no english or social science. She had told me, that no matter what I did, I wouldn’t get promoted. This was about October/November see, so I couldn’t see no sense in going if I wasn’t going to get promoted. So Jack Reems, that was the assistant principal, Mr. Reems wanted to see me again after he showed me those tickets. He said, “I see you just don’t believe the cow horns are hooked. Now we are just going to have to show you.” He said, “I want you to just be truthful with me. Why is it that you won’t come back to school?” And I told him, I said, “Well, for one thing she has already told me that no matter what I did I wasn’t going to get promoted.” He said, “Who told you that?” I said, “Mrs. Childes.”  And there was always some girls there in the office, they called them runners or something, volunteers. And he said, “Go get Mrs. Childes and bring her here.” So she went and got her. Mrs. Childes came back and he asked her, “Did you tell Pete here that he wasn’t going to get promoted?” She said, “I sure did.” He said, “Well, I am here to tell you that if he gets enough hours and gets caught up on his work, he will be.” Now there is one thing about it. The state law says you have to have so many hours that you have to attend school to be eligible to pass. He said, “You done been out so many days,” he said, “now to make those up what you are going to do is write book reports, or in the morning I want you to come in at seven o’clock.” School didn’t start till eight-thirty so I made up an hour and a half in the morning. School got out at two-thirty and I stayed until seven. Then I was writing reports, to make up additional time, so I made up all my hours and I did get promoted. The next two years I didn’t miss a day.

What changed your attitude toward school?

I was beginning to see he agreed with me. That I had been treated unfairly. That is right. I think I had more respect for him, then. Mutual respect.

Did you play baseball at Parker?

Now we didn’t have baseball at Parker during the war years. But in ’45, the war was coming to a close and we did have baseball. We didn’t even have Parker uniforms, we had Judson Mill, Redcoats uniforms. I was 28 in the waist, and I had 34 waist pants. I could turn around in them suckers.

Tell me about working in Brandon Mill.

Well this is good, shug’. It was 1946 when I finished school and my dad got me a job in the card room on the third floor. I had taken drawin’ at Parker so I knew all about the machinery, and so I was working with this other girl on a set of frames. So the cotton comes into the card room [where] they begin— it comes in on a bail, and then they stretch it out— so each process puts a little twist in that yarns that it becomes stronger and then ends up as either thread, fillin’ or salvage- on a loom.

What else did you did as, as an employee at Brandon?

Back then they had a kids [baseball] team, and I had just turned seventeen, and we were playing, and so they let me out to go play ball and they paid me while I was gone.

How long did you work in the Card Room?

Well, I’ll tell you, Then, you couldn’t smoke in the mill so this other girl, Katherine Coker, I told her, “Before I leave you might want to go outside and smoke,” because she had to go outside all the way to the bottom. So she went, took her break, and then came back. Well, I went on to the ballgame and when I got back, man, it was just yarn everywhere. And it was because of that job. It just got too much for her. She couldn’t keep it up. And they just had cans of yarn everywhere. Well, when I saw it, ole smart me, I just went on down and sat.


Yep. So the second hand come on over to me and said, “Pete, that’s your job that’s got everything piled up here, see? Get up and get in there and help start it up.” I said, “That job wasn’t that way when I left, and when it gets like it was when I left, I’ll get up and start working.” He said, “Oh, no, you don’t, if that’s your attitude, you are fired.” I said, “Oh, no, you can’t fire me because I just quit.”  We go see Mr. Smith (who was the boss over the card room) and he tells me, see, “Pete, what happened?” And then he said, “well, after all, that is your job son, so you’re either going to have to do it or your going to have to quit.” I done quit. So then he said, “Well, I’ll give ya—” he wrote me out a slip to go over to the payroll department— went across the street to get my money I had coming to me. Well, I caught the elevator and went down to the first floor, the main floor, but when I got down there, there was my daddy and the superintendent, and I told my dad, “I just quit.” He let out a few choice words. And he looked at the superintendent and said, “How ‘bout the boy, Bill? I’ve kept this boy all the time through school, wouldn’t even make him work till he gets through, and what does he do when I get him a job? He quits!” He said, “You got anything else for him?” He (superintendent) said, “Yes sir. Up on the spooler room, up on the top floor.” He said, “You go up to see Mr. Hunt and tell him I sent you up there.” So I got back on the elevator going up, and I got a job pulling up yarn which was a whole lot rougher than what I was doing.

I can’t imagine that you would have put up with that for long!

Well, I kept up there- they had two girls that were sweeping. Well, they stayed at the window all of the time- now this was the 4th floor, waving at people on the sidewalk, at people going by. So one day I stopped the boss as he was coming by. I said, “Boss Grey?” And he started laughing (I was always going on with something). He said, “What do you want Mac?” I said, “I just…I want a raise.” I said because the girls and I are making the same thing, but they are in the window the whole time and I never catch up. I said, “That ain’t right.” He kind of laughed, and he said, “Pete, I’ll tell ya, these jobs are rated skilled and unskilled.” He said, “And all of these are unskilled so I can't raise you.” I said, “Well then, I want the next sweeping job that comes open.” He just laughed and walked on.

Did you eventually move into another job at Brandon?

Well, the guy that was a second hand there, Jess Okaida, was a good friend of ours. He liked us and we liked him. So Mr. Grey’s son (Bill) was the fixer and helped Jess, and he had asthma so he was going to have to quit his job. So Jess told me. He said, “Pete, Bill is going to have to quit his job so anytime a belt stops or something, or we get a lap on the cylinder, get in there like you know what you are doing and help out. We’ll see if we can’t get you that job.” I said ok. So that went on a couple of weeks, and I’d jump in and did everything I could. So finally, Jess came to me and he said, “Pete, Bill’s going to have to quit next week. This is his last week. You ought to ask Mr. Grey if you can get that job.” So I said I’d do it. I saw him come down the spare floor and I motioned for him to come over, and he started grinnin’ because he knew something was up. And he got there and he said, “What do you want Pete?” Well, I said, “I just found out that your son Bill is going to have to give up his job; I’d like to have that job.” He said, “You think you can run it?” I said, “I can run any job in here, including yours!” He just laughed and said, “Come in on Monday.” So I went from about sixty cents an hour to about ninety cents an hour. I kept that job until I went into service.

What was it like playing baseball for Brandon?

See, now I was playing ball and we’d play at night. They would let us off at nine o’clock and pay us just like we were working till three (because you know it was 7:00am-4:00pm; 4:00pm-11:00pm shifts) anyway, they would pay us, so I found out that me and another guy that was a good friend of mine (he was just a sub, and I were playing regular shortstop)... I found out that he and I were making the same thing. I said, man, that aint right. So I stopped Joe Anders, he was the manager, and Greg Wen, he was the athletic director, I said, “I just found out that me and Boogie are making the same thing!”


We called Fred Bird, Bogie — everybody had a nickname. My brother was named Bugs! Most of the Mill Villagers got called by a name based on what you did, what you drank, whatever happened in your life, you… we had a guy named Speedy he was as slow as he could be, but they called him Speedy; so you develop a nickname… if you talk to Marshall Williams, he has a book of nicknames that everybody had in the Village, and they carried on through high school. Even in the service everybody called me Pete. My really name is Lloyd G. McAbee. How you get Pete out of Lloyd I do not know. They pegged that on me when I was about a week old. My brother, they called him Bugs and Stinky. Use your imagination.


Anyway, I said that ain’t right. If we are making the same thing, I’m playing regular and he is just sitting there on the bench. And they said, “Well, it’s just a matter of circumstances now, we just can’t afford to give you more.” I said, “Well then I think I’ll just quit.” Well, Larry Campbell, who played second base, he stopped me Sunday the next week and said, ‘Pete, you still want to play ball?’ I said yeah, why? “Well Willie Willbanks (who was the athletic director of Dunean at the time) he’d like you to come over there and play as an outsider.” (Because each team could have three players that weren’t on the mill’s payroll.) So I went over there making a whole lot more money than I was making before. Jesse Kelly was the second hand, he would still let me out when we played (even though I wasn’t playing with Brandon) and pay me that 2 hours, and I’d go over to Dunenn and play. He knew.

The stories! It’s just on and on and on...

Baseball ran in your family, correct?

My Dad, Joe Jackson wanted him to play on his Barnstorming team, he had one that would go here and there. They would play by passing the hat and things like that. You see if you worked at Brandon, you had a job, you worked. If you quit or died, you had to move off because whoever else they hired was going to get that house. So Joe wanted Dad to come play but Dad told him, “Well, I don’t have a place to go with our family if I quit. I can't do it.” He said, “Because if I went with you, we won’t even have a place to live.” But that is what he started out doing. We went from place to place. He was really good: in fact in 1932 he was voted the most valuable player in the Western Carolina League, and got a gold watch for it.

Tell me more about your Dad.

Fred McAbee. No middle initial. He was good, and that is how we would go from place to place. He grew up in Piedmont. The first job he ever had was driving a mule and a wagon, from Piedmont to Greenville and back, hauling supplies for Duke Power. Then he played ball and that is how he got started. So he would go here and he would go there. Well, he was making good money playing ball. He got a job at Lyman. That is where I was born in 1928, then three years later, my brother was born in Tuckapaw. It is Startext now. Later my other brother who died shortly there after his birth, he was born and we were up as far as Forrest City, NC, he played. And that is how we got back to Poe Mill, and he was at City View living with my Granddaddy. Daddy went over to Judson to get a job caus’ they told him they wanted him to come over and play ball, so he went over there, him and mother, and they said they would give them both a job. Well, they gave him one and then told Mother they wouldn’t be able to use her, so she told Daddy and he turned around and said, “Well, I am gonna have to leave because you told us you could get us both jobs,” so…he left and came back to Brandon. So we moved there in 1936 and we lived at Cityview and Granddaddy moved us on a mule and a wagon and my brother and I sitting up on the back of that wagon with our furniture and everything we thought we were high company, let me tell you. Coming up Woodside Ave. Man oh man. Fred Jr. Mcbee.

What were the years like after the War?

I went into the service in ’48, and when I came out of service they had modified the spoolers and everything, and had actually cut out the job that I had when I went into the service. Ray, who was the athletic director at that time, I asked him, “You need an assistant?” Cause he has all kinds of teams and everything, and he went to Mr. Loftis and he said, “Yeah. We will hire him as your assistant.” So I had no car, no nothing, I was living at Dad’s, and that is how I met my wife, see. I was at the skating rink, over there and she was skating. There I was, the Recreation Director...Let me tell you: my wife had gone out with her sister and friends—two of them. And one of her friends was in a fight with another one, and they were just watching. We had a constable there, a deputy at the mill, he was deputized by Greenville County, but he lived in a mill house in the Village and he kept the law. Along with her sister and the girl that was in the fight, they all got barred from the skating rink. They couldn’t come in. Well, me and her eventually, the next year, got married, so there I was, Recreational Director and my wife couldn’t even come in to the skating rink. So I go to the office manager and I told him, “I am in a predicament.” He said, “What is it?” “Well, I am married and my wife wants to come in this skating rink.” He said, “What do you mean?” “Well,” I said, “she got barred from the skating rink ‘cause of the fight out in the yard that they had been watching that her friend was involved in.” I said, “Can't I get her back in?” He said yeah. And I said, “What about the sisters too?” He said, “Ok, yeah.” So Carolyn came back into the skating rink.

What was your courtship with Carolyn like?

Now the first time that I ever met Carolyn’s mother, I was playing ball.  She already had one son-in-law who was a ball player. He was a darn good ball player but he was lazy, so Carolyn carried me to her house that night, and they were all sitting around the table, and she had made chocolate cake, and they were having coffee and cake, and she introduced me to her and her husband, Gene, and I knew him, but didn’t know her mother and she said, “This is Pete McAbee.” And she said, “Is that Fred’s boy; what’s he doing?” Caroline says, “Well, he plays ball.” And Ruth said, “Not another darn ball player!” So there I was. How do you think I felt sitting there. She was a doll after that. She just had nothin’ but girls. They had five girls. And she just didn’t like boys. James (the other brother-in-law) played with the Spinners, a darn good ball player, but anyway, they made jobs for most of the ball players, like Ralph Harbin. He played triple A ball for the New York Yankees, and they give him a carpentry job. Well, he’d go out—if someone had a porch with some bad boards in it, he’d go out with the materials. They would do the replacement and he would sit out in the tree and they’d bring him cold-cut sandwiches. They just made him a job to put him on the payroll so he could play. The only thing that kept him out of the Major League was Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. He was a center fielder and he was something else. But anyway, James was really good. He had a job out there rebuilding looms out there in the warehouse, and he had to be out there every week. Joe Anders was his boss and also the manager of the baseball team. Well, James would go up to Joe and tell him, “Say I got to be off.” Well, he would let him off. Well, that went on for 4-5 weeks then finally, James went up to Joe and said, “I’m gonna have to leave, I’m gonna have to quit, I’m goin’ over to Easley because I gotta have more work than I am getting here.”

Was working for Brandon Mill difficult?

There were some, every year, they went to the World Series. They didn’t make much in the mill, but they made enough. They’d ride the train up… We made enough for me to go to the World Series in 1947 over our seven game series in the Western Carolina with Southern Bleachery. My cut of the pay was enough for me to go pay my way for that week in NYC. Everything. All expenses. So we made pretty good money. It wasn’t all that good, but it was good enough back then. I was doing pretty good until I found out that Bogie was making the same thing that I was.

When I became Ray’s assistant, I didn’t have a car or anything, so I went up to George Colemans, up at Traveler’s Rest, and bought a Ford Ranger Wagon, it was a ’46, no a ’54. So, I bought that. Daddy had to co-sign with me, so, then I had wheels. Then about three years later, in ’57, I traded that sucker in for a nine passenger Ford, and that’s the one that Buggs over here rode in [Bill Ellison, present for the interview]. I think every kid in Brandon rode in that thing.

You became the Athletic Director at Brandon.

Ray taught me a lot. Baseball, I fairly well knew, but basketball he taught me the fundamentals, and of football. So I applied that really after he left and went onto another job and I got that job. Then I was able to continue with football, basketball, and baseball; there was something going on all year long for the kids. The mill furnished all of the uniforms. And the equipment.

They built the grammar schools. Brandon cooperation built the grammar school- there the brick one. It was a nice one. But they did it in such a way that if it ever discontinued being a school, the property reverted back to Brandon, so once it quit becoming a grammar school it went back. But they furnished it, it was amazing….

You worked with a number of notable students during your tenure as Athletic Director. Tell us about one or two.

Rex Lyle Carter- graduated Parker in ’43, served as Student Body President at that time. He became an attorney and then speaker Pro Tem in 1957, and Speaker of the House in 1973.

Henry C. Harrison- he is now the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of American Services. He founded this company in 1975 after retiring from South Carolina Highway Patrol. He was named State Trooper of the Year in 1967, was awarded the Order of the Palmetto was a recent inductee into the Greenville Technical College’s Entrepreneur’s Forum which recognizes individuals who have shown outstanding achievements in business and contributed to the prosperity of Upstate South Carolina.

When you think over your life, and the accounts which have been given of it, is there anything you would like to emphasize or make more prominent about your life?

The point I want to emphasize now more than anything else is that I am a Christian. Last year I even gave an invitation at the Brandon Historical Meeting. That is how I would rather be remembered.




James Austin


James Austin

West Greenville Community Member. Mentor for individuals struggling with substance abuse.

"I learned if I kept doing the same thing over and over, I would get the same results. So, when I got saved here at Bethel I learned, you have to share the negative and the positive.”


Full Interview

James, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.

It’s like this... I think it makes me want to cry. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to tell my whole story. There are a lot of things in my life that are just between me and God. Things that I will go to the grave with. But you know, to open up and just tell it— the whole thing. You know, there are times when you get to tell a part here, and a piece there, but a lot of times people won't see how it all fits.

Ok. Let’s do it. How did you end up in West Greenville?

We all moved over here, my whole family, in 1956. I was four, going on five. My sister under me was three (there were several of us) but one of my sisters died and we moved down here after that.

What was your life like, growing up?

I mean it was, as a child you take it for granted that people are going to be there for you all the time. You don’t think about the hard times, and really, we didn’t know what hard times meant. We had food, clothes, things like that. As I grew, I got the taste for— everyone drank. When I was young, everyone would be in the house drinking, and they would leave glasses with stuff in it, and as a child, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, and I’d sip out of the glasses because I liked how it made me feel good. Everybody else was smiling and laughing, and I wanted to smile and laugh right along with them. I was nine. I was nine years old.

How did things progress at that point?

You know, as I got older, I started hangin’ with my boys in the street and life took a turn for the worse. When you go to school, you start hearing stuff. Kids saying, “I got this; I got that,” and you start looking at yourself and you think, I ain’t got that. And people get to talking about you and stuff like that. You start realizing your family has problems, some that you didn’t see before. I came to realize that we were poor. Really poor. I mean there were good times that I could remember. I remember us all leaving the house to go on picnics, with all the families in our house; there were six families in our house (it was a big house). When we left, we didn’t have to lock our doors. The community raised us. We learned to respect that. If we did something wrong down the street, the people on that end would whoop our rear-ends. Then take us home and then we would get whooped again. So we didn’t do that again. That is how we grew up.

As you started getting older, what changed?

You know I was thirteen going on fourteen, I found the need to start stealing. I would break stuff that wasn’t mine. I started figuring that people owed it to me. I would feel like that and it got me in trouble. They put me in a reform school, twice for that. When I turned seventeen I couldn’t go back. You know I was young and I didn’t want to work, and when drugs came into the scene over here, it was like, bam, instant money. I started selling drugs and stuff. The police had gotten to know me, they knew my face, and they would stop me, even if I didn’t have anything. These community cops, they knew you and knew your whole family and stuff. It was like every time they would pick me up and take me home and tell my parents, it was like they were helping our families as they could. We were wild over here. For a while cops wouldn’t even come over here because it was so bad. 

When was this?

In the 50’s and 60’s the cops stayed clear of here, but in the early 70’s, that is when cops got to know everyone. They’d wave at you, stop the car and ask how you were doing. It didn’t matter what the race; they would stop by and find out how you were doing.

What caused that change in their approach?

Drugs. It wasn’t real bad at first. But it started getting worse and when heroin was introduced, it got real bad. They decided with the legislation….they were going to make it harder for the people selling drugs. But back then, it wasn’t all this strong arm stuff they do today. They passed laws in South Carolina so that if you were selling heroin and pot and stuff, the sentencing was going to be different. They went from giving you two or three years to fifteen years.

How did this affect you?

I got in trouble when I was seventeen, and had to go to court downtown. The judge used the Youth Defendant Act which prescribed a one to six year sentence. With that, I would have the opportunity to get out in a year. They sent me to a place down in Columbia called Manning and I was seventeen years old. They had these hardcore people in there, and you know, I got raped. That is where I learned to start hating. I hated each and every person. I told myself, this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Eventually I got even. Back then, things are not like they are now. God tells us to turn the other cheek. There was no turning the other cheek. It was, what you have done to me, eventually will get done to you. Things happened that were…All in all, I ended up spending twenty-eight years of my life in prison because I was full of hate and animosity. I really started reading a bunch of black history and became more and more agitated as time went by. I believed everything I did, I was owed. I thought, they have no right to put me in jail. For twenty-eight years I kept getting the same results.

What were those years like?

It was like this. I would get out, stay home a while and then I’d go back. Get out, stay home, go back. So I ended up doing my life time.

Would you generally go back to West Greenville during your times out of prison?

After my marriage broke up, I moved to New York and stayed for a while. Then I came home. For me, at that point, it felt like the pace had changed. Things were going on that hadn’t been happening when I left. Life had gotten fast, because of being in the city. I knew how Northerners felt when they come down South. I got a job at that point. But every time I got a job, I blew it. Back then, I was making good money. But I would always blow it. I would find a reason not to go into work. I would blow up in the bossman’s face, for no reason.

What made it hard to just to life outside of prison?

I had all this hustling in my system and it was hard to reprogram.  It really started to be a habit, going back and forth. Between going to jail and going home, trying to take care of my son— he was born the day I went to prison, when I was sent down to Perry. A year later she brought him down, and after that all I wanted was to do was what was right by him. When I got out of prison in ’87, I tried to do my best. But when I got back, his Mom had started doing crack cocaine. I had a nice job and was doing everything I could so they gave me custody of my son. He was seven years old. One thing I never did was say anything bad about his Mom. Even though he knew, he never heard us say a bad word about each other. My son, he works for the Post Office now.

How did things progress after that?

In 1997 they passed the Three Strikes Law. I was already way passed that. I was forty something. So what happened was that I went to jail and a solicitor from Greenville County (an Assistant DA) came to ask how I wanted to plea in court. She told me, “James, you could get a life sentence.” She said, “If you plead for 18-25, you might get that. But if you plead not guilty— they have proof against you— and you will be put away for the rest of your life.” I said, “No way.18-25 years? That is a life sentence in itself. Do you know how old I am?” I said, “I will never see light again.” They were trying to get people like me off the streets. She said I was a nuisance, to put it in a halfway decent way. It was like, if you were black, she thought you were part of a system that was trying to corrupt the rest of them.

One of my Sisters hired this lawyer, a black lawyer. And she came to my rescue. She and God did. At that time my hair was black and after six months, during the time I was waiting for my court date, my hair had turned from black to grey. I had gotten on my knees one night, and prayed about the case, and the next morning, my jail-mate said, “What’s done happened to your hair?” And I looked in the mirror and my hair was completely grey. That was a revelation.

What do you mean by that?

I asked God to give me another chance, and when I went to court with my lawyer, we went in there with the idea that we would plead for twelve years. We got in there. The Assistant DA was in there with her crew and then there was me and my lawyer. So the judge called the DA and my lawyer to the bench and handed her a piece of paper and (indicated) what it was. They said, “We aren’t going to give you a life sentence even though you deserve it.” But it was like, “Sign this piece of paper. We are going to give you thirteen years and you have to match that out.” I thought to myself this can’t be right. My lawyer said, “Sign the paper, boy!” When the judged asked me questions, and stuff…I was about to bolt…but he said, “Be grateful. You are the second person to be tried under this law. Their first guy, he was in Charleston, and he got the life sentence.” He said, “I think I see something in you. I think you might be ready to change.”

Was that the case?

You see, I couldn’t earn any credits. I had to do seven out of thirteen years. I went in there, like I always went, with my chest stuck out, and in reality man, I was scared. I never forgot the first time what happened. I hadn’t been in prison for about five months and a big guy came in there, and that morning, he came in there and took my coffee out of the microwave. I put it back (in). He took it back out. I put it back in, and it was just about done but he took it out that last time and I just threw it into his face. I threw it in his face. Then I picked him up and threw him down. He was almost 300 pounds and I was like 145. You had to let people know they couldn’t walk all over you. But I was messed up for a long time after that. For the first few years, I wasn’t doing anything differently. I was smoking, drinking, smoking weed. In prison it’s just like a vacation because you can get pretty much anything you need if you can pay for it. For a couple of years I was the old me. I just didn’t care about nothing else. Everyone knew that the guards were bringing in drugs, or prostitutes, or alcohol. The government just makes so much money off of the prison system. They got over 2 million people locked up in the prison system. They have got over 100,000 people in prison in Greenville County. Then, these corporations come down and build things with the incarcerated workforce. The system gets paid $15-20 dollars an hour for working (which is cheap compared to what it would cost them somewhere else). And then the prison would pay the prisoner maybe $15 a month.

When did things begin to change for you?

After I had been in there for three years, I started going to church one night. Some guy just invited me to go and I just decided to go. There was something about what the pastors were talking about that just got to me. I thought, this could really change my life. I started taking Bible courses through a program out of the Atlanta Bible College. He gave me a form to fill out and I mailed it, and for four years that was all I did was study God’s word. I did that from morning to evening. It consumed me, because then, I had something to do. So after four years I had graduated. And during that time I had stopped drinking and smoking. My life had a complete turn-around.

Did this continue after you were released?

When I got out, no one believed in the change that had happened in my life, and I got a lot of push-back from people who had known me for a long, long time. I tried pretty hard, but it put me over the edge, and I started back doing crack. It got to the point where people just didn’t believe a person could change. I started drinking really heavy like I had never stopped. I started smoking more and more. I didn’t know what to do. I used to walk the streets at night, by myself because partly I wanting to be alone, stoned out of my mind. I worked everyday, because I needed to take care of my Mom. It got to a point where I really didn’t want to do drugs anymore, and I tried to commit suicide. It was like everything else in my life. When things just got too hard, God stepped in and intervened.

What happened?

With all the drugs and alcohol I had, I couldn’t get drunk, I couldn’t get high. I asked God to take my life from me. What happened was, he took my old life and gave me a new one (that wasn’t what I had meant at the time, but…) The very next day, I was coming down through this parking lot, down through here, and the pastor, back then, in 2005, he was standing out there in the parking lot with his foot up on the flower bed. He asked me if I would go to church the next day. He said that God had sent him for me. Reverend Fleming. He said he had got up that morning with no intentions…he didn’t know my circumstances. I didn’t know who he was… but I came to church. I went home, I locked myself up in my room and that night, Saturday night, I took a shower and shaved. I had one black suit left. I come to church that Sunday. When I walked up to the front door, I tried to open the door, but it wouldn’t open. I tried to pull it open, but it wouldn’t open. There were people standing out there. A child that still comes to church here, she came up and pulled the door open. And I walked in behind her. Feeling it then, and telling it now…it just can’t be explained. I was standing in the hallway and it was like all the weight of the world fell off my shoulders. and I walked into the sanctuary and Reverend Fleming was standing down there, and I was crying. I was crying. He led me to the altar and I gave my life to the Lord that day. I did.

How did your life change after that experience?

I had a hole in my heart because of all the stuff I had to go through, and God filled that void. That emptiness that was inside me. That life that I wanted to take away, he gave me. He gave me another life, a life in Christ. This was November, 2005. It wasn’t easy. I was an addict. But they had an Overcomers program and this is where I got clean. I didn’t have to go to rehab, I was able to get clean right here.

How has your life been since that time?

I owe God and this community more than I could ever repay. Everything I ever done, God took all that away and gave me another chance. For the last twelve years, you know I had some gaps in there, but there was never any doubt that God was going to be with me. I go to AA today. They have a better program I think than NA. But I benefit from both of them. When I started going to Church with Reverend Fleming, I thought I knew the Bible in and out, but I come to find out that I didn’t.

You are pretty involved at Bethel Church, it sounds like.

I try not to miss church unless I am sick. I think since then I’ve only missed church like eight times. I had three surgeries. spinal surgeries. That put me away for a while. I was on disability for a while. This is very important: I didn’t have any job, because I was so sick, and when I came to church, it was like, everybody knew I didn’t have a job, or no money (this was right after my first surgery). For three years, the church took care of me. It wasn’t like they wrote a check for me. It was the people in the church. When I would go home, lay my coat down, and find a check in my pockets or when I would open my Bible and find $40-$50 in my Bible, that was how they took care of me. I could never repay that. There were three to four years I could barely get out of my house. The only time I really wanted to get out was on Sundays; I was laid up after that first surgery for twelve weeks. I almost died, truly. But after the third week after the surgery, I asked one of my brothers, here at the church, I said, “I am about to go crazy if you will come get me and take me to the church.”

What happened to your back that you needed these surgeries?

It goes back to the time when the guy in prison fell on me. It almost broke my back. I walked around bent over for about 8 months. The only thing they gave me was Ibuprofen and Motrin. Stuff like that. I just started walking a lot and I was able to straighten up and stuff. When I came home, I wasn’t feeling bad. I was working a temporary job, construction for Tulsa down in Columbia. We were remodeling the dorms up there at Clemson, and my back gave out on me and I couldn’t go to work. I was laying around the house. It got to where, in order to get out of bed, I had to roll out of bed, pull up on the bed, and I would be bent over like I was down in the prison. Every move I made it was like nothing you would ever want to wish on anybody else. The nerves in my back were sitting between my spinal column. Every time I moved it was crushing it. The doctor told me, if I hadn’t came when I did, I would probably be dead in a week. I had the other surgery to repair some of the damage being done, additionally. Nothing went wrong in the first surgery, there was just so much damage. So they had to go back in there, three years later. I had surgery 2006, 2009, and then in 2016. So I can't bend all the way over.

And that is when you found a loving community, within the church.

That is when I found that they meant what they said. Pretty much, we didn’t lack for nothing, my mom didn’t lack for nothing. I started looking at it like, all the things I did wrong, all the energy and stuff, all the wrong things, I can take the energy I have now and turn it into something. Now I am a mentor. Here at the church. A sponsor. Someone to help if things get rough. Someone who is going to answer the phone even if it is three in the morning. My mentor asked me if I would sponsor his brother. They are from Eastover. I told him I had to think about it and ask God about it because I didn’t want to say I would do something and then do it half-heartedly. After a few weeks I got back to him and said, “Yeah, I will sponsor him.”

What was that like for you, James?

Today he is my best friend. We went to Columbia and brought him up here. He had gone through a 28 day program down there in Columbia, We brought him up here. He is 55 now. My whole job was: keep him clean, take him to meetings, stuff like that. My job wasn’t supposed to become more than that, but we became best friends. I have had people in my life who I thought were my friends, but never something like that. God blessed me with people who would bless me like that. And for the first five to six years of sobriety, we were together everyday. On Sundays we would go out to eat. They got this Jamaican restaurant downtown and we would go out and eat down there, and walk to the park and we would just talk, you know. He would tell me about his life and stuff, and then I would tell him my story, from then to now.

What else was happening for you at that time?

At that point, I got my family back. I got my son back. I have a granddaughter, six years old. Yes I do. She is a sweetie. Man, I had so many things change in my life. I see people on the street today and I wonder, was I ever like this, back then? Did people look at me, like they are looking at those men on the street today? I pray that I was never like that, but I don’t know. I don’t remember it. I really don’t. Sure, I tried to cut corners, because I am not a perfect person, but I have tried to stay on track.

What was it like reconnecting with your son?

My son lives over here on Pelham Road. He wanted his kids to grow up in a better neighborhood. It was kind of hard. He was a teenager when I first went into jail. He was just going into high school, just starting to learn what life was about. You know, he loved to play basketball. That was his life. He played basketball in college. Those seven years I can never get back. Because I wasn’t there. It took three or four years to build any type of consistent relationship with him. If I could have, I would have talked to him everyday. I think one day, I called him and said, “Let’s go out to eat.”  And he said, “Ok, I can do that today.” So we went to Applebees. And we just talked. I told him, besides God, he was the only thing in my life that meant more. He was the only flesh and blood that I had that was a part of me. Everything in my life at that point was orchestrated by God so that I could make peace with my son.

Thank you for sharing your story with me James.

I go to AA and stuff like that so you know, being open- everybody is pretty much up front. I learned if I kept doing the same thing over and over, I would get the same results. So, when I got saved here at Bethel I learned, you have to share the negative and the positive. If you are going to be truthful about it…not trying to make anything look better than it was.