Honoring A Hometown Hero

Recently, we lost a man who, in my estimation, was a genuine hero and role model for all of us in Dillon County, especially the African-American community.
Due to the fact that true heroes and role models are extremely hard to come across, I thought it would be very appropriate and timely to dedicate my column today in an endeavor to cite and give honor posthumously to Mr. Major Bethea.
To be perfectly honest about it, I have known him nearly all of my life or at least known of him.
Mr. Major and my father entered the Army at about the same time and served together during World War II in the Pacific Theater against soldiers of the Imperial Empire of Japan.
After being released from the Army, Mr. Major, now married to Mrs. Hattie McDuffie Bethea, enrolled in Denmark Technical College where he learned the craft and skill of tailoring and the basics of the dry cleaning business.
Once he finished his training at Denmark Technical College, he returned to Dillon and worked as an apprentice under Mr. Garfield Campbell at Campbell’s Cleaners for a few years.
In the year of 1955, sixty-three years ago when I was only four years old, Mr. Major took a giant step of faith and organized and started Major’s Cleaners.
It was an ambitious and daring move for a black man to attempt an undertaking of that caliber, especially when you consider the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of that era when Jim Crow and segregation was a predominant reality.
Even today, it is difficult for an African-American entrepreneur to launch a successful business venture because of a lack of having the capital, assets, and ability to secure a loan from a legitimate bank or lending institution.
Now just imagine, if you can, how tough it was for Major and Hattie back in those days, with a growing family, to start and manage an upstart business and navigate it through the turbulent waters of segregation and black apathy, jealousy, and a lack of patronage from many in the black community.
Sixty-three long years later, from the date of its inception, Major’s Cleaners is still a thriving enterprise that is now being managed by his children and a very competent and faithful son-in-law.
When many of its rivals and competitors in the dry cleaning business have either come and gone or were forced to go out of business, Major’s Cleaners has remained as the longest and most continuing African -American business in the history of Dillon County.
All of this is due to the ambition, determination, and diligence of its founder, Mr. Major Bethea. His example as a businessman, who beat the odds and was able to succeed as an African-American in a small, rural, southern town, is a heroic and an astonishing achievement.
Mr. Major never made a claim to be perfect or without blemish.
Like all of us finite, frail, and very flawed human beings, he made many missteps and mistakes in his journey, but thank God unlike some, he knew how to repent, get up, and learn from his mistakes.
There are many things that I have admired about Mr. Major Bethea over the years and have sought to imitate in my life. His endeavor to be a man who embraced Judeo-Christian values and have a biblical world view, his belief in marriage (heterosexual), family, and the church has remained firm and intact until his last breath.
In his journey through life, Major Bethea has been a civic-minded and good citizen of Dillon County, who was conferred honors like: Citizen of the Year, an intersection named in his honor, and quite a few others over the years. These honors were rightly bestowed upon a man who made many generous gifts to both people individually, as well as organizations in his life.
Major Bethea was a genuine giver who gave generously without tooting his own horn or letting his left hand know what his right hand was doing.
I want to conclude my tribute today by citing two reasons why I will be forever indebted to celebrate and honor this man.
Firstly, I can well remember back in 1985, when we were a very young congregation having church in a storefront on the corner of Highway 301 and Calhoun Street (where there is a Chinese Restaurant today).
We were in the midst of trying to secure funds to complete the first phase of building our church complex.
Having only a few members with jobs, I knew it would be difficult to secure a building loan from one of the banks in our city.
As we prayed about this financial impasse and waited upon the Lord, the Lord touched the heart of Mr. Major Bethea, who came and endorsed us by putting his name on the contractual proposal we had with a bank.
Although he was not a member, he went and told the banker that he was a true supporter of what we were doing.
I believe it was his endorsement that helped us to secure the loan and complete our edifice and fellowship hall.
Finally and perhaps most important of all, it was Mr. Major Bethea who witnessed to my father back in 2000, when he was in the hospital with an incurable cancer of the prostate, about accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior.
My father got saved then and there through the witnessing of his old Army buddy, who served with him in World War II.
Now they are both in heaven in the presence of the Lord experiencing things that are beyond our capacity to fathom or comprehend. Thank God for the life and legacy of Mr. Major Bethea!