Comrade Will Reese—A Celebration and Commemoration, May 14, 2016

Jerry, one of Will's brothers

May 23, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


Just to start out, I am not the youngest brother, I have one younger than me. There’s six of us—Reese is the youngest brother. Talking to Lynn this week and she asked about would one of us have comments, and my oldest brother said, “well” and I said, “well”... Even since I got here there’s some things that came back to me... and I hear what you’re talking about, and most of you—even Lynn does not know—some of the things that made Bobby who he was.

There’s a picture back here of him speaking at his seventh grade graduation, graduation in a segregated school—it was called the Glade Spring Colored School—and the theme was “Know Thyself,” and I think Bobby spent his life doing that, defining and redefining who he was. And then, I hear a lot about the Revolutionary Communist Party, and if you knew Bobby as we all knew him, as Will, or knew what his name was the week before, but we knew it was Bobby. [Laughter] So if somebody said this is “Ted,” we went along with it, this was “Ted.” [Laughter] If you know Bobby’s background, and... us as a family, I think you’ll see how he was who he was.

[Our] mother and father were born in southwestern part of Virginia. Probably about three percent people of color in that county to this day. My father was a revolutionary, a different type of revolutionary. My mother was a member of a Pentecostal church. My father at one point was a Baptist deacon, so there was a lot of “Thou shall not, thou shall not, thou shall not.” But my father, a vision that he had—my father’s father was a sharecropper and he had told my father—for my father, always important was education and owning your home, and his father had told him that he would never as a Black man be able to own his... My father said he wanted to own a brick home, that was his goal, and his father told him he couldn’t do that. So my father was a revolutionary and a visionary, and built houses for low income families—probably about 15 to 20 houses—made very little profit. And we’re talking about in the ’60s and ’70s, where he had to have white friends purchase land that he would not have been able to purchase as a Black gentleman, a revolutionary. My mother, who is 84, is not with us today. She didn’t come up. I think emotionally, I don’t think she could do this again, another memorial. But even at 84, she volunteers at a soup kitchen, and visits the sick, and works with Habitat for Humanity, another revolutionary.

When we were small, we went to grade school, high school, and there was no question college was next, because my father—being the revolutionary that he was, back in that time, said that YOU were going to college. He worked job after job after job: his main job when he was working was at a plant. He did cement work, remodeling homes. We saw him from time to time. There was four of us in college at one time. Four of us were in college at one time, as my father insisted that you go to college. You always leave things better than you found them. I think that’s what Bobby’s life was—you leave things better than you found them. That was all of our goals in life. My brother and I were both student administrators, worked with a lot of marginalized kids, worked with education equity, social injustices—always leave things better than you found them. My sister has worked in the past as a teacher assistant with special needs students. My other sister just recently retired from the postal service as a lawyer. After retirement, one of her goals is to work with abused women. She’d like to do volunteer work with abused women. Revolutionaries. Different kinds of revolutionaries, not necessarily system, but people changing people, people’s outlook, people’s perspective.

The other one [character of my father] was hard work. My father, I mean everything had to be... if you washed the car it had to be done, if you mowed the yard it just had to be. I think Bobby’s drive—I think if you want to do something it had to be done... it had to be done right. I’ve got that drive. And then the youngest brother, he right now, he still works a full time job. Of his own ambition and initiative as a photographer, he has a photography studio and he pretty much did on his own. For the Hill family, growing up in southwest Virginia—our mother and father are from never moved away. They were revolutionaries. Because back in that day, even the thought of Blacks owning property and houses was “no go.” And my father, a lot of times he lost money building houses and providing them from HUD, low loans for people to get homes. So that’s how Bobby came up revolutionary, growing up, the things that he saw. He worked part time, and volunteered with groups, he mentored a lot of kids. One of them he was taking to a football game when he and I were in college. I had one of the boys and Bobby was in the football game and we were walking through campus and these kids were never exposed to a campus or college life. And we were walking through campus and the little boy was so impressed... It was Emory where the college is. There was no town, it was just the college. And the little boy said, “I’ve never been this deep in Emory.” [Laughter] So that was exposure... If nobody in the family was in college, you don’t go on a college campus.

He introduced a lot of kids at the time to jazz music. He taught them how to play chess. I think to think critically, to look beyond the environments for what you are thinking, was a stretch for lots of those kids, but that’s what he did.

And then I was asked about a few stories, I just jotted some things down so I would remember. And one of them was the red hair story. When Bobby was born, through genetics or whatever, he had a blue eye and a brown eye, and he had red hair. So we don’t know... And this lady in the neighborhood we called (and everybody called) Aunt Lily, said to Bobby one day, “So how did you get that red hair?” And he said, “It rained and it rusted.... That’s how it got red.” [Laughter]

Bobby was always... I thought he would have been a scientist, ’cause when he was small he would mix things and again, exploration to see... He would mix things up and it would explode. He was always mixing and doing the scientist thing. Another one was a story about he was walking along a path or something, and he saw something on the ground and he said it looked like a snake. And he told my mother “And I touched it and it was.” “It looked like a snake,” and I’m going the other way, but he had to find out and it was.

One of the stories, not a fond memory, when I was at the integrated schools and I was in seventh grade, or going into seventh grade, and they were having the seventh grade dance. And Mom used to get Bobby to cut our hair. I mean this is the night of the dance, and he was cutting my hair and he messed it up royally. And I cried. And I said cut it all off. And he did. So I went bald-headed to seventh-grade dance.

Integrating the roller rink. I don’t remember the first one. My sister would have been, I guess, in first grade, in integrated schools. And there were some people from Georgia who worked as Vista [volunteers] that she had met over in Virginia. And they were gonna go skating. And they wouldn’t let her in, they wouldn’t let them in. And the reasons they wouldn’t let them in was because of my six-year-old sister. And I remember them coming back to the house that night and Ann, who was the sister, I asked her, “Do you know the reason you couldn’t go skating?” And she said yes, she did. Of course Bobby and some of the professors from Emory and Henry College sort of spearheaded this. And I remember the night that we went to integrate the roller rink. The police were there. None of us could skate. So we went.

Bobby was always an introspective type, and I remember... again in southwest Virginia, very small minority population. I remember one time, a cookout or something, in the street, or probably it was a road—it was a main one, not with sidewalks and streetlights, but it was one where people have to pass your house. And we were having watermelon. And Bobby insisted that we not eat the watermelon in the front yard. He did not want us to do that.

I didn’t remember this until the memorial in Virginia. One of his classmates told it, actually it was a distant cousin. Where they live, a bulldozer went through someone else’s property. So Bobby speaks to one of the daughters, and he says, “Did they get permission to bring the bulldozers through your property?” She said, “No.” And he said, “Well, that’s disrespectful.” And so Dennis and Bobby and some of the cousins had a protest. They were probably 12-13. And a bulldozer passed through and this was a county where nobody cares if the cows come through your property. That was disrespect. They did not get permission to bring the bulldozer through your property, the girl who told the story said, and the protest was over as soon as the mothers found out. It didn’t last long.

She also told... I had forgotten about this... we had an uncle named Uncle Monte (Monroe was his name). We had a big tree at that time. Bobby would get up in that tree, and I don’t know if he was contemplating or meditating or what he was doing. And he would draw. We saw the artwork he was doing. He would sit in the tree and think. He used to do walks in the field, and that was his introspective time to think. I was never quite that deep. He was deep.

A football story was at Dennison—it would have been high school. Bobby runs downfield and the ball hits him in the head. The ball hadn’t touched the ground, and guess what, that is a15-yard penalty. So they pushed the team back 15 yards. And they punt again. Bobby runs down the field, and the ball hits him in the head a second time. Now we’re talking 30 yards. They punt a third time, and Bobby runs down the field again, and the ball hits Bobby again, 45-yard penalty, and the last time he fell to his knees and just... But the odds of that happening three times, and a 45-yard penalty...

That was some of the stories. Oh, the barbershop.—I wasn’t there, but Lois was the one integrating the barbershop came with some of them facing a gun. The barbershop hadn’t been integrated, and Bobby was always looking for something to stir. So they went to the barbershop with, I think it was Monroe, Preston, and I think it was Calvin, and they integrated the barbershop facing the barrel of a gun.

I get up and I think, I need to get my tires rotated, I need to do laundry, and buy groceries and do laundry. And Bobby’s was, what about my protest today?

For summation, I think that Bobby came from a family of revolutionaries. And as my father taught, leave things better than you found them. And he did.


A Life Lived for Revolution:
Comrade Will Reese—
A Celebration and Commemoration



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