There has been a history of Black politicians who possessed real genuine influence and clout that had a positive impact upon the lives of Black people. As a youngster prior to my becoming involved in politics and during that period of history when Blacks were overwhelmingly registered Republican, there was a Black man who was a power broker and his name was Mr. Earl Sams. It was ahead of my times, but those whom I have the utmost respect for swore by him as a committed, concerned, courageous and stand up Black chairman.
America turned to the Democratic Party in the 1930s and in the city of Pittsburgh another Black man known as “Pappy” Williams became the Democratic chairman of the Hill District’s 5th ward, and became Mr. Democrat. He was the first Black politician that I knew personally that had real influence. Pappy accomplished untold numbers of achievements, but two that deserve mention under his leadership are the first Black from western Pennsylvania was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the first Black judge to the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, the person was Homer S. Brown.
Pappy was succeeded by his brother “Jake” Williams. Jake idolized his brother and took up where his brother left off. There were a number of other Black chairman such as Zach Winston, Paul Green, Jim Bulls, Jimmy Lane and Euzell “Bubbie” Hairston and all of them made substantial contributions to their constituents and they are to be commended for them, but my guy was Dock Fielder Jr.
Dock and I met about 1943 at the Ammon Recreation Center on Bedford Avenue and he lived in the 5th ward, upper hill and I lived in the lower hill the 3rd ward and occasionally we came in contact with each other. Dock’s family moved to East Liberty, but we would run in to each other. However in the early 1970s I moved to East Liberty and that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship between two Black men who had genuine mutual admiration and respect for each other. We did not always agree, but we never had any harsh words for each, and never left each other’s company angry at each other, a lot of times mad at other folks.
I would often describe Dock as one of the most unusual politicians in the nation, because when he gave his word it counted. He meant what he said and said what he meant, whether it was to any elected public officials, preachers, police, hustlers, persons selling wolf tickets, and others. If there was enough room I could list those positive acts that Dock was responsible for. For example the 12th and 13th wards made history by defecting from the Democrats and electing two Republicans to the positions of Allegheny County Commissioners for the first time in 65 years.
Dock was responsible for another significant and historic improvement in the way Allegheny County provided Blacks and women with opportunities to do business with Allegheny County. How? We were at a victory party after the election and Larry Dunn asked, “How can we reward you?” I replied just do a good job. Dock spoke up and said, “Oh no that’s not good enough, make Hop director of the MBE program.” I respectfully declined and Dock insisted that I accept the position and I remember it as well as if it happened yesterday instead of 11 years ago.
Dock turned to me and said it could empower me to help Blacks. I thought about it for a couple of days and accepted the position. Under the administration of Dunn and Cramner Blacks and women were afforded opportunities that had always been denied and have never been provided with those opportunities since we left office in the year 2000.
I had a rare relationship with Dunn and Cramner, that being I had ongoing access to them any time of day or night. To those of you that were provided with those business opportunities—and you know who you are—if Dock Fielder had never convinced me to accept the position, in all probability you would not have prospered under their administration.
I was at an affair last week and two Black men and a White female approached me and stated they exist today based of the opportunities that I was able to provide them with.
The above Black chairmen excluding Jimmy Lane are all deceased, but the influence they once held will never be duplicated again for a number of reasons. The main reason is the party bosses take Black voters for granted and have absolutely no respect for us. Someone had a vision when Dock was born and they saw that there would be a period of time that Dock would be a BIG GUY in politics and be known as PhD Dock Fielder Jr.
Yes, PHD DOCK FIELDER IS THE LAST OF THE BIG GUYS.
(Louis “Hop” Kendrick is a weekly contributor to the Forum Page.)