Friday, February 12, 2010




Vernon M. Herron, D. Min.

About Sixty-four years ago, (c1944) when I was 16 years of age, I experienced my first and only Father/Son Banquet. It was held in the Second Ward High School auditorium. Some organization, whose name I do not remember even unto this day, sponsored this positive exposure experience for boys whose fathers were absent from the home. The purpose of this program was to expose fatherless boys to successful Black male role models for inspiration and growth. Pleasant memories and benefits are with me today as constant companions, in the mix that molded this character.

I am now eighty one years of age. My father died before I was one year of age. In the absence of a male image, two strong Victorian women, my mother and her sister reared me. There were five other siblings to be reared.

My growth experience was void of a male companion and a provider. I did not know that our economic status was classified as “poor,” or that our community-type was designated as the “urban ghetto.” I did know that an organized body of Black males realized that it takes a village (community) to rear a child.

I was invited to a Father/Son banquet and assigned to a father/host, who would serve as a Black role model. My father for the evening was none other than the venerable Mr. Zechariah Alexander, Sr. who brought along a visiting New York friend, Mr. James A. “Billboard” Jackson. What a unique status I enjoyed for the evening! I had two fathers while my peers had one!

 Figure 1 - James A. “Billboard” Jackson (L) and Zechariah Alexander, Sr. (R)

The program consisted of good food, of course, some musical entertainment but mainly an opportunity for Black boys to dialogue with successful Black men in the pursuit of establishing life’s goal, occupation, education, citizenship and the pursuit of happiness.

Both ‘fathers” did a fantastic job of planting seeds of aspiration in me. Even in death, I would want them to know that, their inspiration was not in vain.

I do not know what methodical system was used to pair a boy with a male host but I suspect that father Zechariah, Sr. pulled rank and selected me. Here are the reasons for my suspicion. As principal of the Alexander’s Funeral Home, Inc., that company buried my father in 1929. Mr. Zech remembered that I was a fatherless child who needed his love. He enrolled my siblings and me in the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Sunday School; his beloved late wife, Louise and my mother were neighbors and friends; his sons, Zech, Jr. and Kelly inspired me through organizational life; his grandsons, Zeck Wilbur and Andrew were my childhood playmates. So, is there any wonder why this businessman, a church man, a 33rd degree Mason, a community political power, a Sergeant Major who served in the 3rd North Carolina Infantry in the Spanish-American War, brother Zechariah, Sr. would choose me as his son for the evening?

Zechariah Alexander, Jr.                      Kelly Alexander

Mr. Alexander, Sr. had many national friends, one of which was James A. “Billboard” Jackson, a national public relations representative with Esso Standard Oil, now known as Exxon. Mr. Jackson was considered the oil industry’s leader in the early development of the first “special marketers” for Esso in the Negro community. “Billboard” had worked previously as a circus nickname because he had worked for Billboard Variety Magazine before joining Esso.

One indelible impression Mr. Jackson made on me was when we discussed my aspiring life’s occupation. He said, “Vernon, it is easier for me to push a pen than a wheelbarrow.” I quickly saw the difference between a “white collar” job and a laborer. After returning to his New York office, Mr. Jackson continued his contact with me through the years, even as a Shaw University student.

Thank God for two great fathers in one evening, in whose presence my soul was delighted; men of character, nobility and success; men who stood so tall but stooped to lift a boy. I was impressed with their vision, insights and values. I am grateful for one night of significant male exposure. One night with a great substitute father was better than none at all.



Son of Kelly, Sr. & Queen Court Margaret Alexander
Grandson of Sergeant Major Zachariah Alexander

Nephew of the late Fred Alexander, the first Black City Council member and the first Black elected to the NC House.

Two other strong Black males played a fatherly role for this child. They were the late Rev. Dr. H. M Moore, the 10th Pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the late C. S. Gill, a deacon and Superintendent of the Sunday School.


Rev. Dr. H. M. Moore        Deacon C. S. Gill

Josiah Gilbert Holland best summarizes my prayer, when he prayed and wrote:

God Give Us Men

God give us men. The time demands strong minds,
 great hearts, true faith, and willing hands;
 men whom the lust of office does not kill;
 men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
 men who possess opinions and a will;
 men who have honor; men who will not lie;
 men who stand before the demagogue and
 damn his treacherous flatteries without winking;
 Tall men, Sun Crowned, who live above the fog
 in public duty and in private thinking.
 For while the rabble, with their thumb worm creeds,
 their large professions and their little deeds;
 mingle in selfish strife, lo, Freedom weeps.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Vernon M. Herron

The recent passing of the late Dr. James Edward Cheek, Sr. on 8 January 2010 at the age 77 was grievous and sorrowful. Even though the President Emeritus of Howard University had been ill for some time, he passed from complications of coronary artery and pulmonary diseases.

At the ceremony of Christian burial, there was a “celebration of Life and Legacy” of Dr. Cheek. His biography shows his professorship at Virginia Union in Richmond, Virginia, his returning to his alma mater, Shaw University as the youngest president and remained there until 1969. For two decades, Dr. Cheek served as President of Howard University, (1969-1989) which “experienced immense growth and modernization with the student population increasing and the number of schools, colleges, research programs and faculty expanding.”

The biographers, in an erudite manner, described the life and legacy of Dr. Cheek but lacking in portraying the ‘human interest’ side of my school and room mate. This I can do. You see, even though I am/was four years older than “Cheek.” (That is the name I used for him at Shaw) I was a sophomore when he entered the University. Cheek was my room mate along with two other fellows. We four had a ritual often followed at night to see who could put another “on the floor.” What fun we had.

The time piece for our dormitory room was Cheek’s wristwatch, a possession of his from high school days. When I finished Shaw ahead of the others, Cheek gave to me that “old” watch. Many years later after Cheek had become President of Howard University; we met at an Alpha Phi Alpha Convention. Sporting a gold medallion Alpha sun burst, Cheek boldly asked for that “neck piece” as a gift. Memories would not permit refusal.

Another episode was a debate I had with cheek as to why he dropped one girl friend for the one he married. Needless to say that “Cheek” won the debate.

Life has many destinies. Of the four room mates, one became a college programmer, one became a businessman, one became a College President (Cheek) and one became a pastor (me). As pastor of a Baptist Church in a Mid-Western town, President Cheek appeared as a guest speaker. This setting gave me the opportunity to tell Cheek a story/joke circulating about him.—

      When Cheek pastored a small church in NC, the deacon would awake him
      on Sunday mornings announcing that the pastor was over sleeping
      and that it would soon be time to begin the service.
      It is said that Cheek became tired of being disturbed, so he resigned the
      Pastorate went back to school and finally became a college president.

Cheek vehemently denied the story but we had fun telling it.

The last point is on a more serious note. Of the four original room mates, three have passed, and like Job’s messenger, “I only am…alone to tell” the ending. (Job 1:15)

The death of my three room mates and Thomas O. Chisholm make me conscious of my own mortality.

A few more years to sow and reap,
A few more years to smile and weep,
A few more years to wake and sleep,
And then – eternity! 
A few more miles for weary feet,
A few more trails yet to meet,
A few more lessons to complete,
And then – eternity! 
A little while to watch and pray,
To labor while ‘tis called “Today,”
Prepare for Heaven while we may,
And then – eternity! 
Our life, how soon it will be past!
The golden hours are going fast,
This very day may be our last!
And then – eternity! 
As fades the mist before the sun,
As song that dies when just begun,
So passes life, -so quickly gone,
And then- eternity!