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I’ve written about the writing gene that runs in my family. The last time I was at my grandma’s house, I discovered evidence of this gene: my grandfather’s writings.
My dad showed me a pile of yellow, tattered newspaper clippings. They had come from the walls of another home in Union Springs (the owner had repurposed newspaper as wallpaper). The woman who runs the historical society happened to see the clippings and recognized my grandfather’s byline among them. She gathered as many as she could and gave them to my dad.
These clippings are almost 50 years old and some crumble at the faintest touch. My dad and I were trying to think of ways to preserve them. I suggested contacting an archivist. His response: “That’s why I asked you. You’re the closest thing to an archivist I know.”
If you’ve ever played a game underneath the bright lights of Thornton-Foster Stadium in Bullock County, Ala., you have my grandfather to thank.
Those lights and the stadium are the vestiges of a separate-but-equal compromise made nearly 50 years ago. The stadium still exists, continuing to fulfill the steadfast commitment my grandfather made to youth sports.
My grandfather, Y.C. Nance (1916-1966) was president of the Carver High Quarterback Club, a booster club that supported high school football in Union Springs. In 1964, the group was organizing an exhibition game that would feature the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro American League baseball team. (Side note: this team’s most notable player was home run leader Hank Aaron, who spent the early part of his baseball career with the Clowns). Scheduled to be played at night, the game would require use of a lighted stadium.
My grandfather sought permission from the Bullock County Board of Education to use Pugh Stadium, the city’s only lighted stadium. Request denied. Use of Pugh Stadium was only for the white residents of Union Springs.
As a concession, the school board agreed to build a lighted stadium at Carver High School, the high school for Bullock County’s black students. (The school was later renamed Bullock County High School).
Unfortunately, the game was never played. The Clowns never made their Union Springs debut and no one ever revisited the plan. Nevertheless, the city gained a showcase for some of their finest athletes.
The first time I saw my grandfather, I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. He was an eternal forty-something– quiet, composed and stately. I had seen him a few times before in passing, not knowing who the man who lived in the picture frame really was.
“That’s your grandfather,” my parents explained to me. “Daddy’s dad.”
My grandfather would have been 95 today. He died in 1966 at the age of 50.
I remember rambling through drawers at my grandparents’ house, which they moved into in the 1950s. I stumbled across quite a few pictures of my grandfather and one thing stood out to me– he was almost always photographed doing something to improve the world around him. For me, these pictures were so much more than just pictures. They helped shape the identity of a man I had never known.
Through words and pictures I came to know my grandfather as college graduate, war veteran, Boy Scout troop master, youth sports organizer and Little League coach, teacher, farming expert, PTA president, hard-working son, idolized big brother, loving husband and devoted father.
My grandfather spent 50 well-lived years on this earth. But the imprint my he left on his family and community is so pronounced, you could almost say that Y.C. Nance is still here. That’s a 50-year legacy– with 50-plus more to grow on.