Bill Taylor was Between Two Worlds

The movie ‘Forrest Gump’ followed the fictional Southern boy from Alabama from childhood into adulthood as he traveled through the annuals of American history. Bill Taylor had his own story to tell, so he put it down on paper. He never learned how to write, so he began to draw and paint.

Bill Taylor was born into slavery around 1853 in rural Alabama. Even after the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Great Migration, he remained on the plantation as a share cropper for five decades. When he moved in his 80’s he found himself without work and homeless.

At the age of 86 he began to draw and paint. Self-taught he used whatever he could get his hand on; paper, paperboard, pieces of packing and even candy paper boxes. He lived during the peak lynching period in the South but never really showed it directly in his art work.

He died in 1949 around the age of 96, leaving behind hundreds of art works. It was his way of saying, “I am important, I have a point of view, I matter”.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. held a retrospective of Taylor’s Art work and titled it ‘Bill Taylor: Between Two Worlds (the 19th & the  20th Century)  which featured 155 paintings and drawings which he recorded his time and place in history. The Smithsonian went on to say that, “His legacy will be known as the only artist who was enslaved at birth, to make a significant body of drawn and painted work”.

My mother was born in Mississippi in 1919 and she migrated North to escape an abusive relationship. She labored in the field, but I labored on the factory floor in Detroit Michigan. Her mother died when she was only eight years old, and she only knew of her father. She never learned how to drive but took public transportation to work into her mid-eighties. She made it to 90 years after giving birth to fourteen children.

I escaped the assembly line by joining the military. It was through divine intervention, that I missed the Vietnam War, but I was part of the Cold War in Europe. My mothers legacy passes through me. She never traveled that far but I travel half way around the world; seven countries on three separate continents in two branches of the military (US Air Force & US Army). She barley made it out of school, but I graduated from college. Now that I have written my book, I get to tell her story. Who is going to pass on your family history?


Profiles in Courage – Then and Now

CBS Sunday Morning featured a story about the ‘Profile in Courage Award’.  In 1989 the Kennedy family wanted to honor a citizen in public life for taking the high road even when it cost them dearly.


It’s a sterling silver lantern made by Tiffany’s which was designed by Edwin Schlossberg. It’s patterned after the lantern on the one of the oldest ships in the US Navy, a sail-powered, three-masted, heavy wooden hulled frigate also known as “Old Iron Sides”.  President George Washington named it after the United States Constitution.

John Kennedy had scarlet fever when he was young and had serious back problems when he got older. So in a way he had to fight just to stay alive. But he stood up against powerful interest in Massachusetts to fight for the St. Lawrence Seaway. He fought for a Labor Reform Act in 1959. He shouldered the blame for the failure for the Bay of Pigs incident. He forced the Soviet Union to withdraw their missile sites off the island of Cuba.

He wrote Profiles in Courage when he was recovering from a spinal injury. He chose to write about eight US Senators who stood up for what they thought was right even when it cost them dearly to include their jobs.

I walked past a book store and saw the book (Profiles in Courage) and bought it. As a baby boomer I remember the man who became the 35th President of the United States. At 43, he was the youngest President elected to the Oval Office and the youngest to die in office. He was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas Texas. I remember that day because I was still in junior high school in Detroit Michigan.

The list of recipients is long but I remember a few:

US Senators John McCain & Russell Feingold  in 1999 for Public Service in trying to get big business out of politics.


John Lewis in 2001 for Lifetime Achievement


Kofi Annan  in 2001 A Ghanaian Diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the UN from 1997 to 2006. Annan and the UN were also co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.


Edward M. Kennedy in 2009 for a lifetime of public service.


Gabrielle Gifford in 2013 for demonstrating a fearless public advocacy for gun control after surviving an assassination attempt that left her with severe brain injury.


George H.W. Bush in 2013  (41st US President) for a lifetime of public service.


Barrack Obama in 2017 (44th US President) for his enduring commitment to Democratic ideals during trying times.


Mitch Landrieu in 2018 (Mayor of New Orleans) for rebuilding the city of New Orleans and removing Confederate Monuments in the city.


Nancy Pelosi in 2019 as the First Female Speaker of the House.


What kind of profile of courage will you perform?  You don’t have to be a public servant but you can be the leader of your family or your community. In a world where everybody wants to blend in, it take courage to stand out.


Up and coming artist was almost gone

CBS Sunday Morning did a story about an up and coming artist that was almost gone. Richard Phillips was an artist that was doing long time. As a result, he spent forty-five years in jail which made him the person who spent more time behind bars than any other “wrongfully imprisoned person in America”.


Phillips was a Detroit auto worker who was arrested and convicted of being involved with the murder of Gregory Harris in 1972. Fred Mitchell the victim’s brother-in-law accused Phillips and Richard Polombo of being the two people responsible for, the murder.

In 2010 after serving 38 years in jail, Polombo admitted he lied. Phillips didn’t have anything to do with the murder. However, Phillips didn’t hear about his confession until four years later. If not for the Michigan Innocence Clinic, Phillips would still be in jail.

The Michigan Innocence Clinic is an organization of law students that investigate and litigate cases on behalf of prisoners who have “new evidence” that they are innocence of the crime for which they have be imprisoned.

In 1990 Richard Phillips started painting to break up the monotony of doing long time. It was his salvation because he knew he was innocence. He told his attorney that he would rather die in prison than admit to a murder he did not commit. He started off painted water colored greeting cards for fellow inmates which allowed him to buy art supplies. Over a course of thirty years he developed a body of work.

The Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act in 2016 grants $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment which means Phillips would be eligible to receive $2,250,000. When Phillips was convicted, he left behind a wife and two kids; age 4 and 2, they would now be 49 and 47 years old.

The system is broke and needs a fix. It could have happened to me. I’m from Detroit and I worked in the factory before I went off into the service after the 1967 Riots.


Telling my story.

I’ve written my book, now it’s time to tell my story. When we’re young, we want to blend in, but when we get older, we want to stand out. But I never wanted to be an “Ordinary Joe” because I was always on the go. I’ve been to seven different countries, on three separate continents, in two separate branches of the military (US Air Force and US Army).

Now I consider myself a “GI Joe“.  “Don’t get it twisted “,  I’m not stuck in a military past, but I’m using that military mind-set and discipline to build a brighter future. I think like a warrior and I patch my invisible shield everyday to reflect the negative news and nasty views and sharpen my sword (the power of the pen) by writing something  positive whenever I can. If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for whatever falls your way. It didn’t happen over-night, but it happened over time.

Below is photo of me taking a photo of the set-up at the Drexel University Dornsife Center in Philadelphia PA. before the book signing.  Top left –  book cover poster of Standing in the Shadows, Listening to the Greats!!!  Top right – Photo of the author holding “two working hats”: U.S.Air Force and U.S. Army.

On the bottom 2nd left is a photo of my mom  with her hands on her hips (who I dedicate the book to)who was still working at the age of 84 and still catching the bus to work in the cold Detroit winters. When she left us at the age of 90, I found out the rest of her story.  She gave birth to 14 children, but her mother died when she was only eight and she barely knew her father.

What he left her was his legacy. As a Native American from the Mississippi Delta, he kept count of all his children during his life-time and when my mother was born in 1919 she was the last of HIS 33 children.  Because I blogged and wrote a book I past on her legacy. I’m so glad I met Alex Haley, on one of his tours many years  long ago. Now I’m the one writing my story of my Roots. 20190316_123530_Burst01 (2)

Integrity, Character and Earnest Effort pay-off over time. As a writer and “almost poet” I like to rhyme, so things stick in my mind. YOU should learn to be as cold as ICE  (I-C-E), to make it through life and still be nice . Maintain your I – Integrity, build your C – Character and provide EEarnest Effort in everything you do.

The goal should be; take pride in everything you do!  It’s much more that the money you make, it’s WHAT the work/the time and the effort, makes of YOU. One of my mentors, the late great Jim Rohn said, “The question you should ask yourself at work, is not how much am I making? But what am I becoming because of the job?” 

If you feel stressed out and unappreciated, over time those things will affect your mine. Another mentor Les Brown said that, “More people have heart attacks on Monday morning than any other time of the week.”  They dread going to work so much that they die, before they can even show up.

I was raised by my mother, but I grew up with my dad. I was home along and in my last year of high school when the 1967 Detroit riots started. I was living with my dad at the time and he was out of town for that week-end.

It’s an event that is seared into my mind: 2,000 building were destroyed, 7,200 people were arrested, 1,100 people were injured, and 43 people were killed. I could have been one of those casualties, but only watched in amazement. As a result, I was able to escape the assembly line and join the military line.

Even though I was still in high school, I worked full time on the assembly line. I would catch a city bus in the morning and go to the other side of town, because my pop didn’t want me to go to the local high school. I would come home in the afternoon, do a little homework, then catch another bus to the other side of town to work on the 2nd shift. As a military veteran he knew about the power of association: We lived in the hood and he knew, a lot of the folks were “up to no good”.

I found that work on the line was a hard-daily grind. As a new hire you had to do whatever task you were assigned. At the beginning of the model year there were always gaps in the line, so you had a little time, but when they hit full production speed that was one vehicle produced every minute, which meant you had 60 seconds to complete your assigned task.

The older guys with seniority had easier task and had conditioned themselves to do their job. In the late 1960’s in Detroit you either worked in the plant with the union, you worked a low paying job with no labor union, you worked in an office somewhere or you hustled on the street. The money in the factory was fine, but I didn’t want to condition my mind, to continue that grind. My solution was to join the military, to use the GI bill to get a degree, so I could save my body and use what’s inside my head.

What are you willing to sacrifice in order to change the direction of YOUR life?  I decided to join the military during the Vietnam War. I had many friends and classmates that were being drafted and sent off to Southeast Asia to fight in the jungle. I enlisted, so I would have a little say.


The Navy was too much water for me. The Army and Marine Corp was too hard core.  I had already worked hard in the factory floor, but nobody was shooting at me. My logical choice was to join the Air Force, if I could get a good enough test score to get in.

I got in, and the adventure begin. I took my first plan ride to Basic Training in San Antonio Texas, then a bus ride to Advance Training in Wichita Falls in the same state, followed by a quick plane ride to a radar site in the middle of the desert in Nevada. Being assigned there was like being assigned to the moon; plenty of rocks and a lot of sand.

The next assignment took me over the pond (across the Atlantic Ocean). I wasn’t in the jungle, I was again in sand. This time it was Libya North Africa.   Col. Muammar Gadhafi had deposed Libya’s King Idris and wanted the US out of the country. I was assigned to help close the base.

The US base commander kept a lid on things and the base closed on time. His name, Col. Daniel “Chappie” James. To me he was just the base commander, who happen to be Black. I later found out that he was also a trail blazer. He was a Tuskegee Airman and a highly decorated combat pilot who later became the “First African American Four-Star General for the United States Air Force”.

I left Libya North Africa and was sent to East Germany; the Berlin wall was still standing tall. I learned a little German and moved off base. It’s where I developed a wider world view. I also moved up in rank (buck sergeant) but took a quick hardship discharge, to take care of my dad who suffered a stroke.

I returned home (Detroit) and went back to the factory but became an inspector, which meant I didn’t have to work as hard. But it was still the same repetitive grind.  Dad got better and a friend of his agreed to take over, so I could attend school.

I chose Drexel University in Philadelphia because they had a co-op program. Earning credentials AND related work experience sounded like a good deal to me. I went to a co-op high school in Detroit, that changed their co-op program right before I got there.

I chose a technical degree program at Drexel, but don’t have the aptitude, so I changed my major to business. Lesson learned – when you find yourself in left field, reel your own self in. My foot was in the door (I had been accepted) and I was going to give it my best effort.

I looked at my new schedule and that blue-collar attitude kicked in. By taking the right subjects I could graduate with a double major. It would just increase the power of my resume. I had gone to high school and worked on a full-time job and I still graduated on time. I was also a military veteran (Air Force) and had a different maturity level. I didn’t come to play, I was looking for the most bang for my buck!

Then one day I passed a sign on a wall. It read,” The more you look, the better it looks”. It was a sign for the R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officer Training Corp).  I had prior military experience and became the P.A.V.E. coordinator (Program to Advance Veteran Education) as a work study job. I looked at it as another challenge and decided to give the R.O.T.C. program a try. It was Army and I had done Air Force time. But a few extra bucks would help me make it through this college grind.

As an active duty Army Quartermaster Officer, it was like attending grad school. Each assignment I had, was in logistic, but at different levels. In New Cumberland Army Depot, I worked mostly with civilians and a small military detachment. When I went to Germany, I worked with German Host Nation employees, a few military dependents and another small detachment of military.


When I got to Ft. Bragg N.C. (Home of the Airborne) it was all military. At Bragg you were either Airborne or you were a Super Leg. The four-mile run was how we all started our day. The military discipline of do what is required to accomplish your mission and take care of your men was now set in my mind.

When I started blogging it all came back to me. It was that taking pride in what I did, which lead me to choose personal development as my subject matter for my blogs.

I became the student and stood in the shadows, listening to the greats: The greats being, the best motivational speakers and thinkers of today and yesterday. I even met a few in person, over the years: Zig Ziglar, Les Brown, Darren Hardy, Vernice “Fly Girl” Armour and Tracey Walker.

You can Google “Standing in the Shadows, Listening to the Greats!!! By Earl E. Hackett” and order from Blurb Publishing. If you like what you read, then leave a positive comment on the Blurb publishing website.


Ain’t too Proud to Beg

Ain’t too Proud, was half a century ago but I’m old enough to still remember. Now the Temptations story comes to Broadway.


I grew up on the East Side of Detroit during the 1960’s and we considered the Temps, as the baddest group in the Motown stable. They could sing and dance like nobody else. Otis Williams formed the group around 1960 and called it the Elgens but he changed the name the next year. I remember seeing the movie (on VHS), and the group mentioned that it sounded like a cigar brand, so they decided to change it to the “Temptations”.

As the story goes it took a while for the group to come up with a hit good enough to pass Motown’s approval. Barry Gordy the Founder of Motown worked in the automotive plant and ran Motown as a hit factory. Selection of what was to be mass produced was by committee.


The day I found Motown I didn’t know Hitsville USA was it. I was young and had decided I was going to find the place with all the new hits, even if I had to ride there by myself.  I had rode my bike from the East side of town near Belle Island and had expected to see a high rise building with the big letters MOTOWN. Instead I found this little house between these two other houses with the sign on top.

We listened to some of their old stuff and liked it, but it didn’t make the cut. The original Temps was formed in a time of Civil unrest and we are also it a time of unrest now. The Black Lives Movement is real and effects more than just the people in the Black community.

Otis who sang baritone is still around at the age of 77. Tenor Paul Williams took his own life at the young age of 34. Lead singer David Ruffin died of a drug overdose. Bass singer Melvin Franklin had rheumatoid arthritis and died at the age of 52 and Eddie Kendrick died of lung cancer. And even though many of the original group is gone the legacy of the Temptations lives on.


Bessie Coleman set the stage for others

Bessie Coleman (Jan 26, 1892 – Apr 30, 1926) was the first African American Aviator and she was also the first Native American to hold a pilot license (International Pilot License).


She was the tenth of thirteen children of a Texas sharecropper but she managed to attend a small segregated one room school where she would walk four miles every day to go to school, unless it was harvest time.  She even saved up enough, to attend Langston University. But only attended one term because she ran out of money.

When she was 24 she moved to Chicago to live with her brothers, where she worked as a manicurist at the  White Sox Barber Shop. While there she heard stories from some of the pilots who were returning from World War I . At that time Women and Blacks were not allowed to attend flight school in the United States, so she decided to save up to learn overseas.

She earn her Aviation Pilots License from the Federation Aeronautical International in France. She even took flight lessons from a French Ace pilot near Paris. And she went to the Netherlands to meet with Anthony Fokker one of the worlds most distinguished aircraft designers and took lessons from one of the companies chief pilots.


When she returned to the United States she became a Barnstormer performing in front of large crowds.  In 1922 she performed in front of the All Black 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I. They were also known as the Harlem Hell fighters. She once said that, “The air is the only place free from prejudices. I knew we had no aviators, neither men nor women and I knew the Race needed to be represented along this most important line, so I thought it my duty to risk my life to learn aviation”.


Her pioneering efforts served as an inspiration for a generation of African American men and women but she died in an accident before she could establish her school for Black Aviators.


Even though she never got her school off the ground, she has received many honors for her efforts;

  • The US Postal Service issued a 32 – cent stamp honoring her in 1995.
  • In 2001 Coleman was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
  • In 2006 she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
  • In 2014 she was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
  • Mae Jemison, the first African American female astronaut in space carried a picture of Bessie Coleman on her first mission.



A book review of a Unsung Southern Hero

Herman J. Russell wrote a book titled Building Atlanta. “How I broke Through Segregation to Launch A Business Empire.” Bob Andelman was the co-author and Andrew Young wrote the foreword.


The words, “Go home and shine shoes on your own porch” rang in his ears from the Atlanta City Hall Alderman and all the white people around him, who laughed at him , but it only strengthen his resolve. Herman  had a speech impediment but was struck with the entrepreneurial spirit at a young age in the segregated South. He didn’t mind shining shoes but he wanted a business, not a box.

He had told  his daddy, a ‘master plaster’,  about his plan to open a shoe shine stand, but the land (a vacant lot  near their home) belonged to the city.  At twelve years old he had to be pretty bold to enter the city hall alone. He came out a changed person.  Funny how one incident can become a turning point – Herman the businessman and entrepreneur was born that day, because he was going to build his stand anyway.

He built his shoe shine stand, then took the time to listen and observe what his customers really wanted. He noticed that some of his customers needed laces, so he sold laces. Then he noticed they wanted a snack while they were waiting for their shine. He added snacks and a coke and his business continued to grow. After being in business a month he had to hire help. Another added benefit of having a business is it became a place of learning as customers came in with their gossip, conversations and tall tales. He may not have understood it all but he was listening.

Despise not the small beginnings. At ten cents a shine Herman made eight to ten  dollars a day. Not bad when you consider that the average daily wage for a adult male worker in those days was about six dollars and fifty cents a day.

Herman was the last of eight children and his mom had attended Benedict College but most of the jobs were for domestic workers. His dad was a master plasterer and worked on many of the finest homes in the Atlanta area. He didn’t talk a lot but he led by example. He taught his kids  to live a life with kindness, bravery, independence, honesty and respect for others. “Do your best no matter what you do.” He saved his money and didn’t believe in wasting time or money.

Herman had chores and a paper route when he was young. By the time he was eleven he worked (manual labor) on some of the construction jobs during summer vacations and  when he was fourteen his dad bought him his own plastering tools. His dad demonstrated what to do and Herman had to pay attention and learn the trade.

While Herman was still in high school he and some friends built  a duplex on a lot that he paid $125 for. The duplex cost about $3,000 to build.  Herman learned a valuable lesson when he discovered that he had built his duplex on the wrong lot. But he reached an agreement with the owner by trading the empty lot that was next to his. From that point on Herman became a stickler for detail for every project or deal he entered into.

When Herman told his parents he wanted to go to college to increase his knowledge of the building trades they asked how was he going to pay for it? His answer, “I saved enough from my business to pay for school”. Later as he walked out the door on his way to the train station his father told him, “Work hard and stay focused”. The train ride from Atlanta to Tuskegee was a lesson in separate but unequal transportation.

In 1949 Tuskegee Institute was a lot of open space and a few buildings. However, Herman transition to college life was eased by meeting up with some of his old friends that had graduated  from high school before him.  They had some fun, but he never lost his focus. He excelled in drafting, masonry, carpentry and every construction related course.

H.J. Russell & Company became Atlanta’s Do-It- All Contractor.  Soon after graduation him dad became so sick that Herman took over the plastering business, and named the company H.J. Russell & Company. As a sub-contractor Herman offered great service, at a good prices and on time delivery.

H.J. Russel built a twenty-four- unit luxury apartment building in which one of the first tenants was Vernon Jordan, who was just a lawyer at the time. Next came a one-hundred-unit luxury apartment complex called Paradise Apartments. Paradise Management (a real estate holding company) grew as the company kept building properties. By 1962 the company added a “couple of four-hundred- unit complexes.

In 1967 H.J. Russell & Co. was the plastering and fireproofing sub-contractor for the Equitable Insurance Co. Building, one of the first large buildings in downtown Atlanta at the time. It was the largest subcontracting opportunity to date for any African American firm at that time.

When asked how did he acquire almost two thousand rental units, a property management company, and an insurance before the age of forty, he said he didn’t spend money on showy expensive offices, he didn’t do a lot of unnecessary travel, and he didn’t buy a lot of  expensive cloths and  jewelry, and he didn’t drive expensive luxury cars. He held on his earnings and reinvested into his company.

When he built the family home it was on what others called a ‘sad corner lot’. But he was a man of vision. His new home was ten thousand square feet on a two and a half acres of land; it had five bedrooms, six bathrooms, and indoor swimming pool, a tennis court and a basketball court. When Vernon Jordan left Atlanta  to take over the United Negro College Fund in Washington D.C.  Herman gave him a big going away part for him in that house.

Herman mostly stayed in the background during the civil rights movement, but he provided  financial support. He and others provided provided the bail money for the hundreds and sometimes thousand of civil rights demonstrators. ( Remember the scene in the HBO movie Boycott where some one came in and paid the bail for all the protesters – that was based on Herman Russell).  When Martin Luther King Jr. and the leadership of  the NAACP came to town they would relax and swim in his indoor pool.

Herman was doing so well in the business community, that he invited into doors  that were closed to Blacks at the highest level. He was invited to join the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. And he was the President of the Chamber for a time. He was also invited into the Capital City Club. Joining that club resulted in a joint venture that did $500 million with Coca-Cola. Joint ventures built the Georgia Pacific building , the Georgia Dome and the Coca-Cola Headquarters in Atlanta.

Georgia Pacific Building


Coca-Cola Headquarters in Atlanta


The Georgia Doom was replaced by The Mercedes-Benz Stadium and H.J. Russell & Company had a hand in both.


Along the way to building an Empire of glass, concrete and steel, he built some connections with many history makers; Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Ambassador Andrew Young, Vernon Jordan, Johnny Cochran, and some political folks; a   couple of Georgia Governors to include one who became President Jimmy Carter and President Barack Obama. (Most of the people mentioned have photos in the book).

I highly recommend this book. Herman J. Russell was a self-made man who grew up in a blue-collar family in the segregated South who according to Forbes Magazine became one of the richest African American in the United States. The buildings still stand and now the grown children run the company. Herman had done so much for so many and touched so many lives, that this would make a great movie. Forrest Gump was fictional, but Herman Russel was the real Southern Deal.