Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Conservative Viewpoint
- A 100 Year Old’s History Lesson

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

The year was 1907. The Lusitania was the queen of travel between Europe and the U. S. Marconi initiated transatlantic radio communications. The Oklahoma territories became Oklahoma, our 46th state, and Teddy Roosevelt occupied the White House. And just outside Columbia, N.C., on April 23 Henry Bryant was born to a loving black family. Henry had four half brothers and a sister.

I received Mr. Bryant’s name from a friend and was told he was a life-long Republican who would soon be 101 years old. I called and asked if he would be interested in being interviewed. He invited me to his home the next day. I couldn’t wait. I was going to meet a walking, talking 20th century history book.

On my drive to Columbia I thought about all of that has transpired since Mr. Bryant’s birth. The sinking of the Lusitania and the Titanic. World War I through Iraqi Freedom. Inventions from talking movies and television to YouTube. Commercial air travel to space exploration; typewriters to computers. This man has lived through it all.

Being unfamiliar with the area I slowly proceeded up the country road toward his house. Planted firmly in the ground was a “Fred Smith for governor” sign. I rang the bell and was graciously invited inside. I was introduced to his wife of 56 years Nora, who is confined to a wheelchair. Mr. Bryant invited me to sit “in the best seat in the house” and already had a table pushed in front of my chair to use as a desk. The love in this home was everywhere; from the many family photos to the religious symbols of his Christian faith. The home was cozy and welcoming.

Mr. Bryant spoke of his first wife, Polly, who died many years ago and their five daughters. He and Nora had two daughters of their own. One of his girls died from breast cancer in her early ’40s. “Tough to lose a child” he said softly.

Mr. Bryant’s daddy worked in the Roper Lumber Co. where he would camp all week and then walk 20 miles home on weekends to be with his family. “We didn’t have much but we ate well,” he remembered. His daddy also sharecropped. Cotton, soybeans and corn. “In a way we were still slaves,” he said. “We did all the work and the owner got all the money.” “When it came time to settle up it seemed like we always broke even. Life was just basically work,” he told me.

Mr. Bryant lost his father when he was just 15 years old. He said he had no more than six months education so nothing much would change for him. He would continue doing the only thing he knew – work.

Mr. Bryant discussed economics. For a man with no formal schooling, he is articulate and knowledgeable. He discussed the events leading up to the banking crisis that preceded the Great Depression. “Mr. Hoover got all the blame” he said, “but it was really the Democrats who controlled Congress who were at fault.” He then laid out the intricacies of the interest differential between what Europeans were paying for our money, which was near 10 percent, while the U. S. government paid much less. All the money was going to Europe, which he said forced many smaller U. S. banks out of business and helped create panic and ultimately the run on the banks.

Mr. Bryant recalled it was in 1938 and part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that changed the length of the average workday from 10 hours to eight hours for most Americans. He recalled the Adamson Act of 1916, which initially proposed the change but said it wasn’t broadly used back then. “Workers were being paid $1.92 per day and we were grateful to get it,” according to Mr. Bryant.

In 1942 Mr. Bryant bought his first home. He had been traveling around the country working construction jobs here and there. He wanted to come home to Columbia. “White folks wouldn’t rent to you unless you worked on their farm. I hadn’t farmed since 1936 so I decided I’d buy my own home and work at what I pleased.”

Mr. Bryant says he continued to labor at many different jobs through his 80s. “I’ve never been on welfare and have worked for everything I have,” he said – in the defense industry and in ship yards. He first became a foreman in 1942. “They knew I was a good hard worker,” he said.

I asked Mr. Henry Bryant why he was a Republican. “Better for the economy” he said. “They know how to create jobs. I know handouts are necessary from time to time but accepting them as a continuous way of life is bad.”

“Who do you like for president this year,” I asked. “Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama don’t have the experience,” he said. I’ll probably be voting for Mr. McCain. I’ll vote for Mr. Smith for governor.”

Mr. Bryant is concerned about the future for his grandchildren. “Never should have taken prayer out of schools,” he told me as he gazed upon the cross that adorned the wall. “Kids are no longer taught morals at home or in school. They’ve been turned loose and have no value system. Dope and immorality are the result. Bring back God front and center and you’ll turn this country around.”

Amen Mr. Bryant. Amen.

I too say Amen. And Happy Birthday Mr. Bryant.


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