During a trip to Savannah Georgia earlier this month, I made a surprise phone call to Wilson Scott Jr. Scott played on my 1968 Kansas State freshmen basketball team –but it had been more than 45 years since we last talked.
Scott was speechless for a second when I told him who was calling- then he said, “Let’s meet at my church later this afternoon.” The player I knew as Wilson or “Slick” as his teammates referred to him, is pastor of the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Savannah.
I arrived at his church around 5 p.m with my wife Kay and our niece’s son Casey Arterburn who is a student at (SCAD) Savannah College of Arts and Design. Following a warm welcome, we headed off to Scott’s favorite restaurant- the Pirates House. Scott and his wife Claudette had celebrated 25 consecutive wedding anniversaries at this restaurant. “It became so routine that we’d get a call the day prior to each anniversary telling us our table was reserved for our special day,” said Scott. (Scott at his church office in Savannah)
Along the way, Scott drove by his boyhood home. It was impressive to learn that Scott’s African American father rose above Savannah’s inequality in civil and political rights to become a very successful entrepreneur. “My dad was very smart,” said Scott. “He started his own business, then built a home for our family in 1957 and took care of his 6 children.” Scott was the only boy and had five sisters looking after him.
Our next stop was Beach High School, named after Alfred Ely Beach who founded the Beach Institute (a manual training school), after the Civil War in 1867 to provide a means for newly freed African Americans to assimilate into society. The Beach High Scott attended was built in 1959. The new Beach High is located right next door.
“I was glad to see the Home of the Bull Dogs on top of the entrance into the new school,” said Scott. I could tell the inscription was important to Scott because he along with David Hall, now president of the University of the Virgin Islands were members of the 1967 Beach High state championship basketball team. Hall was a member of our 1968 freshmen team and still holds Kansas State’s one game varsity rebounding record of 27 rebounds. He lettered three years and graduated from Kansas State.
Scott-Weigel May 2013Hall and Scott’s all black Beach High state AAA championship team made history in 1967 because it was the first time that African Americans were allowed to play in the Georgia High School Association’s state tournament competition. And- they brought home Savannah’s first state basketball title in more than 20 years.
Our dinner conversation at the Pirates House restaurant centered on Scott’s Kansas State memories. “I remember we lived in the Athletic dorm on Denison Avenue with cows living across the street,” said Scott. “We could smell cow manure every day.” I jokingly said, yes we recruited you Georgia guys so you could be near the cows.
Life works in mysterious ways and Scott recalled a prediction made by one of his Kansas State professors that came true. Scott said, “ My speech professor, Dr. Reinhart told me, ‘Son, you have a preaching voice, and when you get up and give your speech, you sound just like a preacher.’”
Scott-Hall-Weigel-Frosh Team 1968Before Scott became a preacher, he was the nation’s leading sales representative for Sears -22 out of the 26 years he worked in the Sears store in Savannah.
Freshmen team game picture: (Scott-Weigel-Hall)
“I love communicating with people,” Scott said. “Preaching is not just a profession, you have to be called.”
Scott received his calling and now leads a congregation of about 250 members not far from where he grew up.
Scott attended Kansas State for one year on a full scholarship and then transferred to Western Carolina University where he led his team to the district 6 championship and on to the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City. Scott was a gifted long range shooter with a 39 inch vertical leap.
Scott’s wife Claudette was an elementary teacher for 39 years before retiring. His oldest daughter Fatimah Scott Sawod, works at the Emory Hospital in Atlanta and has a daughter Ariel, age 9. His youngest daughter Kimberly is single and works as a coordinator of urgent orthopedic care and lives nearby. The Scotts live in Pooler, Georgia- a short distance from Savannah.
Wilson and Claudette experienced a tragedy about 13 years ago when their son Wilson Scott III died when he was age 21as a result of injuries sustained in an auto accident.
This was my first trip to Savannah. We took in all the sites and marveled at the architecture of America’s first planned city - laid out in a series of wards in 1733. Commercial and residential buildings are centered on 24 public squares (now just 22) surrounded by live oaks and azaleas.
We did all the tourist stuff during our three day stay including tours of mansions like the Mercer Williams House used as a setting for the book and movie “Midnight in the Garden of Evil”, but I came away with a different slant on Savannah’s white colonial history- depicted most often in books, magazines and movies.
African American Family-May 2013I saw a history of African Americans who came to Georgia in chains and rose above the cruelty of slavery to become some of Savannah’s finest citizens. They became entrepreneurs like Wilson Scott Sr., educators like Dr. David Hall, doctors, lawyers, civil rights leaders, preachers like Wilson Scott Jr, and a Supreme Court Justice like Clarence Thomas who grew up in Savannah.
Photo taken of African American sculpture- near Savannah River
It took more than 100 years to integrate the Savannah public schools after General William T. Sherman of Civil war fame freed the slaves on Christmas Eve in 1864. But, I came away seeing a history of resilience ,patience and endurance of the African American slaves who actually built the city of Savannah through their labor and how their decedents like Wilson Scott Jr. would one day prevail and become part of the American dream of “equality-liberty and justice” for all .
Scotts Church May 2013It was a most memorable trip and best of all I was able to reconnect with one of my former players who has distinguished himself as a strong leader in the community… and still remembers the importance of his Kansas State connection 45 years ago.
(A view of Scott’s Baptist church from the balcony)