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Arthur Meadows breaking barriers with a positive attitude

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Arthur Meadows was born in his parents’ house in Newbern March 8, 1937. Six months later, his mother and father took him and his sister and two pigs and some chickens and relocated to the south side of the town of Pulaski. The town where young Arthur Meadows grew up was a different place, in many ways, than the town of Pulaski in the 21st century.

“Back then, Pulaski was a wonderful town,” said Meadows. “When you would go downtown from Randolph Avenue all the way down Main Street, there were buildings and businesses. People would be nicely dressed Saturday and walk the streets and visit. Any kind of thing that you want, you could find in downtown Pulaski.”

Meadows clearly appreciates the vibrancy of that era in the town’s history but being a young man of color, not all doors were opened to him.

“During those times there were a few black businesses,” Meadow’s explained. “There were a couple of restaurants, pool halls, a feed store. You could go to eat at black places. The Greeks had lots of restaurants. You could go to the counter and get your hamburger but you couldn’t stand there and eat it and you couldn’t sit down and eat it.”

Meadows grew up in a time when segregation was considered normal but this did not stop him from getting an education. His parents enrolled him in the Calfee Training School, which operated as an elementary school for nonwhites in the county.

“Calfee was, to me, a great school,” declared Meadows. “A nice building, nice teachers and that’s where I got my start. I had a great experience. My parents only had a basic education so it was just wonderful to learn how to read and write. I still write legibly and I still read a lot. I don’t know that I would have got a better education at one of the other schools, but I did get a good foundation at Calfee School.”

Throughout his life, Meadows tended to be a very good student but he had other obligations to tend to as well.

“My folks didn’t have much money, so I had to work after school.” said Meadows. “So I couldn’t participate in lots of activities and sports because I needed to be in town working. Sometimes I’d work to nine o’clock at night to have some of the basic things I wanted and needed.”

These side jobs did have some benefits.

“During my younger days, a woman named Annabelle Dougherty was an inspiration to me,” he said. “She allowed me to clean the house and mow the grass and she and some of her friends and she would introduce me to them and they would give me jobs. She loved me like a second mama.”

Other teachers and librarians in town found books to lend to young Meadows to help in his learning. Upon graduating from Calfee Training School, Meadows attended the segregated high school known as the Christiansburg Institute. Again Meadows excelled and when he graduated in 1955, T.G. Howard, a prominent Methodist Minister in town, offered Meadows a $100 scholarship to Morristown College, Tennessee.

Meadows accepted the offer and began attending Morristown College. While there, he met some interesting people, including Ralph Boston and Wilma Rudolph, who would both become world renowned as track stars. Meadows graduated as class Salutatorian with an associate degree in business.

From there Meadows found employ in the U.S. State Department under then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

“When I joined the State Department, I joined the Frank Buchman movement, called MRA (Moral Rearmament Movement,” said Meadows. “We were out to rearm the world … morally.”

The group’s core teachings, absolute honesty, purity, love and unselfishness, were shared by many high profile individuals including Mahatma Gandhi. Through his association with the movement, Meadows became best friends with Ghandhi’s grandson. In 1958, he also met the lead actress in the Crowning Experience, a film made about the life of Mary McCleod Bethune, an adherent to the MRA.

In 1959, the dean of Morristown College offered Meadows a full scholarship to attend Tennessee A&I State University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Education in 1961. Upon graduation, Meadows came back to Pulaski County and found a job at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, which was then run by Hercules Incorporated.

“I was the first person of color in all the jobs I had,” said Meadows. “I was hired as a quality control operator with a bachelor’s degree when it was never required for others at the plant. But it allowed me a chance to work my way into different management jobs. When I came to work at Hercules at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, the colored and white signs at the water fountains were just coming down. That was in 1961. Black people who worked at that plant were bottle washers, janitors, laborers. They paid well and they were happy but they never had the opportunity to move up.”

In 1961, Arthur Lee Meadows married Peggy, a native of Draper. The following year, Meadows was promoted.

“I became the Labor Relations Manager,” Meadows recalled. ” I learned to deal with the unions and I had the equal employment opportunity program where I could help get minorities, women and other groups into jobs they never had. It was quite an experience. I was treated well. Ninety-nine percent of the people that I was supervising were white”

Meadows spend 20 years working at the arsenal and during this time he became involved in many civic activities including the now defunct Rose of Sharon Masonic Lodge, the Wise Men’s Club, the New River Valley Workshop and in 1972, politics.

“The previous year my older brother James Meadows was appointed town council in Dublin,” said Arthur Meadows. “So I threw my hat in the ring. I thought that I could help improve the community, not just for blacks but I thought I could make some improvements to the economics of the town. There was often racial turmoil in town and black people thought I could wave a magic wand and I had my part and certainly I did all I could, not just for my own race but for other people. Particularly people like at Kersey Bottom next to the railroad, which flooded repeatedly.”

Meadows, who was the first person of color to serve on the Pulaski Town Council, was elected in 1972 and 1976. In 1980, he was offered a job at the Sunflower Munitions plant in Kansas working in Human Resources. He took the job and he and Peggy spent the next 15 years living in a suburb of Kansas City.

“I liked Kansas, but I liked Pulaski better,” Meadows admitted. “Kansas was not my home. We were never caught in a tornado but my wife was afraid of the storms.”

Arthur and Peggy Meadows moved back to Pulaski in 1995, where they have lived ever since. Arthur again joined the Randolph Avenue United Methodist Church where he became Lay Leader.

“I’ve always been a tither and I’m still tithing and it’s sometimes a strain but I put in 10 percent of whatever I have from whatever sources,” said Meadows. “Churches wouldn’t be in bad shape if everyone tithed.”

Meadows is also a big advocate of saving money for the future and … of marriage. He and Peggy have been married for 57 years.

“There are joys and woes with it,” Meadows declared. “It’s a roller-coaster ride. You can really go down but you come back up. She’s still up and about and has a good sound mind. I’ll be 82 in a few weeks and she just turned 85. We just live up on the hill but we get along pretty good. We get grouchy at times. She does the washing and I do the cooking and the cleaning. Not a bad couple.”

Of the days of segregation Meadows said, “I don’t recall any really bad incidents but it was a scare that you really couldn’t go to certain places. I didn’t have any problems racially of any significance other than being denied lots of opportunities that would have given me and others a chance to go into other fields.”

Despite this, Meadows seems happy with what he’s accomplished and he seems content living in Pulaski.

“It’s a quiet town now. I think it will boom again. I really do. It’s small, it’s friendly and it’s a beautiful area. I just enjoy the community as it is.”

Throughout his career, Arthur Meadows has been the first person of color to serve in a variety of functions both in his career and in local politics.

“I’ve had a pretty good life.”

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