MLK marcher from Hilton Head Island was tired of 'so-called' freedom

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comAugust 24, 2013 

Arthur Frazier is shown with his pet cow, Miss Earline, at his home on Jonesville Road in October 2000.

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Arthur Frazier knew a thing or two about freedom long before he made the trek from Hilton Head Island to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50 years ago.

Freedom rolled down like a mighty stream in his family lore.

"Hilton Head Island was the first place in the South where slaves could be free," Frazier told me in his booming voice as we talked in his yard 13 years ago. "People knew if you could just get here, you would be free."

His grandmother, then little baby Amy Miller, was the youngest of three children of Caesar and Moriah Jones in the bateau when they stole away to Union-occupied Hilton Head at the outset of the Civil War.

"The baby was crying, and Caesar told his wife to throw the baby overboard," Frazier said. That's how badly they wanted freedom. "Moriah put the baby under some sort of mattress that was on the boat, and that's how we got here. Without her, I would not be standing here."

So, yes, Arthur Frazier knew a thing or two about freedom when he listened to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Yet when he retold the old family story about rowing to be free, he added: "I always say 'so-called free.' "

HARSH BLOWS

Our representative at the March on Washington was the quintessential Gullah man.

What he made of a life that began in 1914 on a remote sea island was what he pulled from it with wit, wisdom and sweat.

As a child, he was free to dig ditches for 60 cents a day. As an adult, he was a farmer, ferryman, longshoreman, entrepreneur and preacher.

His wife, Earline Campbell Frazier, was born on Hilton Head and educated at Penn School on St. Helena Island and Savannah State. She taught school for more than 35 years.

"I once worked 30 days and 30 nights straight until my wife came to the dock and took me home," Frazier told me about his days as a longshoreman in Savannah. "Sometimes I was so tired when I got home, I tell you I wouldn't get up if my grandmother rose up out of her grave."

As a ferryman, as soon as his head would hit the pillow, someone would knock at the door and beg him to take a baby to the hospital in Savannah.

As a store owner, children going next door to the island's first consolidated elementary school would stop in for candy and soda water. They called him Mr. Fraidge. They called his Amoco station built by his father, "Fraidge Store."

The store, on U.S. 278 near Spanish Wells Road, is now a seafood and vegetable business operated by a Campbell relative. The school next door, which was not integrated until 1971, has been torn down.

Frazier could smile easily, but life dealt him some harsh blows.

His only son, Phillip, was murdered.

He walked with two canes after losing a leg in a car wreck. In 1985, he was shot at his store, the bullet going through his cheek and lodging in his neck.

One of his responses was to convert the garage area of his business into Frazier's Temple Holiness Church, where he preached every Thursday night.

PART OF CHANGE

The family that arrived crouched in a bateau ended up buying 100 acres of farmland on Jonesville Road for $5 per acre.

Arthur Frazier bought his piece from his grandmother, Amy. When he died in 2003, Arthur Frazier was buried in his side yard beside his wife and son.

He was glad when the bridge opened to Hilton Head in 1956, but sad when they paved Jonesville Road many years later. Fine homes and new neighborhoods now fill land where his cows and goats once roamed.

Arthur Frazier went to his grave proud that he marched on Washington.

He wanted to be a part of history. He wanted to be a part of change. And a friend told me he wanted to make sure the island was well represented during an electrifying moment for the nation.

Arthur Frazier knew that the freedom his family found a century earlier was "so-called" freedom. He grew up in a society where African Americans didn't have equal access to education, jobs, housing, health care, utilities, capital -- even the right to vote.

Arthur Frazier didn't have to make that long trip to Washington in the hot summer of 1963. He was hoping to take the "so-called" out of freedom.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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