By admin on Jun 15, 2008 | In The Black Perspective of Views of America By Helen Burleson
Blaine Major Burleson of Mexia, Texas was the benchmark for what a father should be.
A man ahead of his times, a renaissance man, a motivator, an innovator, a family man who appreciated the finer things in life and provided those things for his three daughters.
Armed with only a 6th grade education, Blaine left home, with his parent’s permission, to head North to pursue his dreams of a better life. At nearly six feet, he looked like a grown man; and he knew his size was an impediment. Hoboing his way up North, whenever he got off the train in any town, the first thing he did was to go directly to the sheriff’s office to introduce himself. “I’m Blaine Burleson and I’m here looking for work.” Knowing the conditions of the southern part of the country at that time, he was discerning enough to know that had anything of a criminal nature happened in that town, the Klan and the posse’s would come looking for that unfamiliar Black man. He preempted them by establishing who he was and what his intentions were.
Born November 16, 1897, this was 1908 and he was 11 years old. Wise and ambitious beyond his years, he pursued whatever work he could find. Coming from a successful family of 10 who owned considerable land in oil rich Texas, he wanted a more sophisticated and more equitable life. Knowing that his parents’ homestead was stolen from them by their covetous Caucasian neighbor, he did not want to suffer a similar fate for he knew he was going to be successful and did not want his success illegally taken from him. His father was literate and encouraged his eight children to become land owners. His oldest brother, Ephraim Burleson, a World War I veteran managed to earn a Ph.D. and taught economics and philosophy at Paul Quinn College in Texas.
Uncle Eph never married, but took an interest in all of his nieces and nephews which turned out to be a bonus for my sisters and me.
Blaine worked his way up to Kansas City, Kansas, immediately got a job, made a friend on the job, who took Blaine home to meet his family. That was Blaine’s home for the 5 years that he lived and worked there. That was an era when Americans of African descent looked out for each other and befriended each other which was very much in the African tradition of the whole village raising a child.
In 1913, he became restless and wanted to come further North and he landed in Cleveland, Ohio. Here he worked with a young man named Spencer Payne and the same scenario repeated itself. Spencer took Blaine home to meet his family and that is where Blaine resided until 1922.
Because it was his dream to come to Chicago, in 1922 he set out again on his quest. He found employment at the International Harvester Company, now known as Navastar. He also found a room with a couple in the Rosenwald building on 47th and Michigan, purportedly one of the first garden apartment buildings in the nation. The development funded by the Rosenwald foundation was supposed to be low-income housing, but when the project was finished, middle class Blacks moved in. Residing there were some of the movers and shakers in Chicago’s early history, Joe Louis, Anita Cockrell, who founded one of the first nursery schools for Blacks in Chicago, Robert Taylor, for whom a Chicago housing project was named (which I call vertical prisons to contain poor Blacks) and his daughter Frances Taylor, who later joined the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe and was at one time married to Miles Davis, prior to Cicely Tyson, Thomas A. Dorsey, who composed, “Precious Lord,” and two of my relatives, my uncle, Samuel Wilson Hurley, Sr. from Tchula, Mississippi and my great aunt, Victoria Louise Wilson-Thompson also from Tchula, Mississippi.
Coincidentally and ironically, it was my great aunt Vick that Daddy found a room with.
Fate was on his side because in 1923 my mother was sent to Chicago to live with her aunt Vick in order to finish high school. Mother, Beatrice Lillian Hurley-Burleson was very familiar with Chicago because each summer she came to Chicago to shop at Marshall Fields to purchase her middy blouses and pleated, blue wool skirts and black shoes, the uniform she wore at the Catholic School she attended. Always a gentleman, upon realizing that he was smitten with the young beauty, he moved away and then called her aunt and uncle to request permission to court her.
On January 1, 1924 Blaine and Beatrice were married. They were blessed March 31, 1925 with their first daughter, Juanita Elaine (later Eberhardt) born in Cook County Hospital, followed by Ruth Pinkie (later Lowe), a home delivery on August 1, 1927 and then the caboose came on December 8, 1929 and she was named Helen Louise (later Fredrick) after the Lying-In nurse who helped deliver her at 5201 South Calumet in Chicago, IL.
Both my parents extended their education at International Harvester because the company conducted classes for their employees. Mother was a “Rosie the Riveter” who joined the work force in 1941 when the U.S. became involved in WWII. Daddy was a welder and Mother was a blueprint reader and a calibrator. Mother went straight to the U.S. Post Office to deposit her checks every payday. This enabled us to acquire our first piece of property.
Now to get back to the influence of Uncle Eph, he kept us supplied with what few Black history books there were available at that time. Dad was an avid reader and had a set of law books which he read daily. We were taken to the library to get cards as soon as we were age eligible. Daily we were required to read at least three newspaper articles to discuss at the dinner table. Dad said that one had to be of international importance because we had to know what was going on in the world, one of national importance for we had to know what was going on in our country and the other of local importance for we had to know what was going on around us.
Dad did not believe in a lot of toys so for Christmas we each got one or two toys, Dad went to a lumber yard and got scraps to make blocks for us. Each year we got a significant gift to further our education, a piano, a typewriter, a set of World Book Encyclopedias, and a combination radio, record player and record maker. We would record our piano recital pieces and play them for perfecting our techniques. Each summer when we graduated from elementary school, we were enrolled in Cortez W. Peters Business College and attended every summer thereafter until we went away to college. Further, until the war when gasoline and rubber were rationed, Dad gave us a month’s vacation yearly because he said traveling was broadening and an extension of our education.
Because Dad was such a good provider and Mother was such a good manager, before we finished college, at one time all three of us were in college at the same time. Can you imagine tuition, room and board, books, transportation to and from Wilberforce University and later Central State University at Wilberforce, Ohio. This was the school of our choice because of the influence of our African Methodist Episcopalian Church upbringing.
When I went to graduate school at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, I refused to allow my parents to pay my tuition because I felt if I were worth my salt, I should be able to do this by myself.
After 30 years of marriage, I became a divorcee, and I have resumed using my maiden name as a tribute and honor to my Dad, Blaine Burleson.
I sorely miss my dad especially now that Fathers’ Day is here. Dad attended every school program, every piano recital, drove us to dances and picked us up afterward and our wish was his every command. What a Dad! He was also a great grandfather; and I regret that though he lived for 87 years, he was not alive to see how all his grandsons have followed his lead and are outstanding fathers in their own right. My son, Earl Fredrick, III, earned his M.D. degree from Howard University and his M.B.A. from Amherst, Earl’s daughter, Montana Marie Fredrick, who is fluent in French and Chinese graduated from 8th grade with high honors this year, June 2008, her father encourages her to learn a new word a day, my daughter, Erica Elyce Fredrick earned her B.A. with high honors from Governors’ State University and now is enrolled in graduate school; my oldest sister’s son, Robert, Jr. earned a Masters Degree in Multicultural Education from DePaul University of Chicago and his son, George Eberhardt, III, graduated from Yale U in 2005 and will be graduating from University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 2009, his sister, Ashley Victoria Ebehardt just graduated June 3, 2008 from Princeton University; my middle sister’s son attended DePaul University in Chicago and his son, Warren Blaine Lowe, Jr. attended Purdue University in Indiana, and his sister, Amanda Juanita Lowe will graduate from Thornwood High School in South Holland, IL as the Valedictorian and number 1 in her class in 2009.
Dad did attend my graduation when I earned my Doctorate in Public Administration and he also lived to attend my son’s graduation from medical school.
We owe it all to you Dad, and to Mother, too! Happiest of Father’s Days as you continue to inspire and motivate your family from Heaven. We salute you, the Patriarch of the Blaine Burleson Family!
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