BLACK HISTORY MONTH A legacy of agriculture and business

BY CAROLYN GRIFFIN

The Greenville Standard

 

This article features two men who were prominent business and agricultural leaders of this county. Their legacy lives on through their mentorship and family lineage.

There are many others but time, space, schedules, and access to information does not allow us to get it all in.

As I have prepared and researched information for these articles, I keep finding out that there is so much more.

The history of businesses on Oglesby Street and in the county is one that must be told. We plan to share those stories and many others in future publications.

Today, we have chosen to share from the life of James Herbert and Seth Lee Williams.

The following information on Herbert was found in a 1988 article about his 100th birthday celebration and in his obituary.

 

JAMES HERBERT

He is best known for his funeral home that was established in 1929, grocery, generosity in the community, and his construction and renovation of low-income housing.

He first attracted attention in Greenville as a plasterer not long after the dawning of the 20th century.

Herbert was paid seven and a half cents an hour back then. He might have remained a plasterer if he had not “gone crazy” over a girl in 1909.

It seems she talked him into going up to Huntsville with her to attend Alabama A & M University. He was elected president of his graduating class of 1913.

Mr. Herbert was a big proponent of education. After seeing combat in World War I, he returned home and dabbled in a variety of jobs.

He wound up in the funeral home business and opened a grocery. He built the Macie-Herbert Seventh Day Adventist Church in 1963 in honor of his wife of 50 years, Macie Stephens Herbert.

Herbert was a lifetime member of the Alabama Funeral Directors and Morticians Association.

I am sure that “Daddy Herbert” as he was affectionately called, would be proud of the many black owned businesses in Butler County today, especially those in the funeral home business.

 

SETH LEE WILLIAMS

Fertilized and watered soil is only a portion of what it took to make great creations for a Greenville farmer.

In 1925, Seth Lee Williams was born and at a young age he was inspired by his parents to become a farmer. The farm can be found east of Greenville in the Mount Zion community.

Williams spent numerous years farming large crops of cotton, peanuts and sweet potatoes. Farm equipment could be found at the storage shelter or near the pecan trees within proximity of his home.

Most days his attire consisted of blue Liberty overalls and a straw hat with a green plastic edge. Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and look like work.”

Williams was recognized for bringing various produce, grown on the farm, to farmers market and parking lots.

This self-claimed “brown skin man” wanted to make time for his family and provide nutrients and life lessons for his family.

With his wife being consistent and making situations convenient, they found ways to bring meals and water to the fields so there would not be long breaks from attending the farm.

While rearing eight children, he also managed to raise cattle, hogs and chicken. Over the years, many of Williams’ children and grandchildren would help around the farm and spent the evening at the fishing pond to relax after a long day of work.

Neighboring farmers and people near and far came to his farm to assist or learn what a day consisted of on the farm.

A red bird on the farm was a sign that visitors where coming, and his wife enjoyed creating recipes for those visitors, who loved her sugar cane syrup bread.

Williams was eager to work even after health issues and expressed himself with enthusiasm by saying, “I feel alright.”

When not on the farm, Williams served as a deacon at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. For those who knew him, the prayers were long at church, home and on the school bus. He was a bus driver for Butler County School System for many years.

Through adversity and testimonies, Williams had faith and love for his farm.

Seth Lee Williams legacy lives on after his death though his children and grandchildren who are now farming hay, cattle and horses.

These children and grandchildren hold countless memories down a dirt road where one would shell peas with an electric pea sheller, and the average watermelon would cost three dollars.

 

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