Flashback Friday: The Candy Man

Me and my sisters and along side our Candy Man, 1976

This is a photograph of Tony Smith--the sweetest man that I ever met. Tony, a black man who grew in the south during the era of Jim Crow, never let the abuse he suffered change his warm disposition toward people of all races.

I met Tony at church. It was the only integrated church in our area and having been so for just five years at the time of my arrival in 1976. Congregation members taught Tony to read when he was well into adulthood. Though he read both slowly and deliberately, Tony was often called upon to do public Bible readings. When he would read or pray, even the youngest of us would sit with rapt attention, realizing that Tony made up for with sincerity and kindness what he lacked in education.

Tony was also known as the Candy Man. Every Sunday he brought enough candy for all the children at church. Before and after services, children wrapped themselves around Tony and his wife Betsy. He'd offer us children whatever goodies he'd stashed in his pockets so long as we promised not to eat them during worship. Sometimes, we didn't keep our word.

Growing up during the era of Jim Crow did affect Tony, however. For example, Tony never even sat foot inside my home even though my mother repeatedly invited him and Betsy for dinner. Somehow, Tony felt it impolite and inappropriate for a black man to be in the home of a white family. I found it a heartbreaking realization that it would take so much more than laws to reverse the damage that years of racism had brought to this country.

Still, Tony was like family to us and so many others who were graced with his association and friendship. Tony's large and loyal family was made evident as his funeral. With standing room only, a crowd of people of all backgrounds and races filled the hall and sobbed together at the loss of our Candy man. Tony's sweet and humble nature despite life's challenges had made an impact on so many of us. He was my civil rights mentor, my Coretta Scott and Rosa Parks, who handled life's many ups and downs with kindness, dignity, and an occasional piece of candy.


queenofsass said...

I met Tony in 1970. My family was good friends with his family. I started the nickname Candy Man because he started keeping candy in his pockets for me and it grew from there.

There was no finer gentlemen in the south than Tony. He was a farmer who shared his wealth of produce with everyone. His wife was a wonderful cook and his youngest daughter is a terrific person cut of the same mold as her father. She was one of my mother's best friends.

One of the saddest days of my life was sitting beside his hospital bed the day before he died. The world lost a beautiful person the day he died.

3rdtimesacharm( 3T ) said...

What a heart touching post and tribute to Tony. He sounds like he Blessed both yours and queenofsass'es life.

A testament to the power of overcoming bigotry and racism thru a loving and warm spirit.


utenzi said...

While this country--and the world in general--has a long way to go towards ending discrimination, it's pretty amazing how much has changed in one generation. I remember watching All in the Family as a kid and everything that was controversial and cutting edge on that show back then is commonplace now. Progress.