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July 6, 2005

Millard Mayfield was a "porter" at our City Drug Store during a crucial time in my life. This was in the late 1930's and I was just growing up. Millard was only a few years older than I was but he taught me a lot about many things. He didn't know he was teaching me and neither did I, but now that we've all entered another era I can understand that.

Part of this is racial, but not all of it. At the earliest part, local blacks were still treated poorly. There were separate drinking fountains for them on the ground floor of the courthouse, and separate rest rooms there and at the two Perry train stations. Movie theaters (we had two of them) had hidden "balconies" where black men and women could see the films without being seen themselves. We had Blaine Separate School so black children could be a "separate but equal" education, and they played basketball on their own court which, incidentally, seemed better than the one in our PHS gym.

When young black men applied for jobs as janitors in local drug stores, the position was called a porterage. If hired, they were expected to sweep the floor once or twice a day, dust the merchandise, and run little errands when so instructed. That's what Millard did for the City Drug Store. He succeeded Sylvester Holly, who also taught me how to drive when Mother took pity on me. I had an Oklahoma News route in Perry. There were 10 subscribers around the square, and two others who lived on the east side and west side of town. When the weather was bad, Mother had Sylvester drive me to those remote houses. But Syl grew tired of chauffeuring me around in the family Buick, so he taught me how to drive even though I was still far too young (not yet 16) for a legal license. Mostly, Syl just sat back in the passenger seat and waved to friends as we passed them en route to those two customers.

Millard was good-natured, always smiling, and trying to do a good job. One August day, when I was swimming at the Country Club, where Blacks were not allowed, Mother sent Millard down the street to the Exchange Bank in quest of more coins for the cash register. He took a bag full of currency for the conversion. He walked in the bank lobby, and quickly learned that a daylight robbery was in progress. Mr. Willett, the president, let Millard know that it was the real thing and advised him to sit at his desk until the process was finished. When he realized the peril he was in, Millard almost wet his pants, he later told me.

We'll continue this little profile of Millard Mayfield in just a few days. Please watch for the finale.