By Betsy Finklea
Photos Contributed By Lillie Vanderhall
Tough, fair, respected—these are all words that have been used to describe two legendary Dillon County law enforcement officers who were trailblazers for the Afro-American community in Dillon County.
Earlia Ray Vanderhall was Dillon County’s first Afro-American deputy having been hired on January 1, 1967 by Sheriff Roy Lee, and Andrew “Deboy” Graves was the first Afro-American to hold the rank of Chief Deputy with the Dillon County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Douglas Pernell said growing up as a young man he remembers Earlia Ray and Deboy, as he said they were called, riding through the neighborhoods. He said in the early 70s, this was the only law enforcement that the Afro-American community knew.
When something happened, it was Earlia Ray and Deboy who would come and be asking questions. Pernell recalled when he was a young that Earlia Ray was working an armed robbery with Battle Oil Company. Pernell and his sister had seen the vehicle. He got the numbers on the tag, and she got the letters. They described the car and told Earlia Ray what they had seen, and it led to the capture of the suspect. At that time, Earlia Ray and Deboy only patrolled the Black neighborhoods. As years progressed and times changed, they eventually patrolled all neighborhoods.
Deboy was a member and leader in Manning Baptist Church, where Pernell attended, and Pernell said he got to know him through church as well.
Vanderhall was a member and leader in Hazy Grove Baptist Church and influenced many young people as well.
Pernell said when he was a youth, Deboy and Macio Williamson and others formed the CRO (Community Recreation Organization) which had a baseball league. He said Deboy coached the Jacksonville Stars. Pernell played for the CRO Trojans.
Kids in the neighborhood wanted to be like Earlia Ray and Deboy. Pernell recalls playing Earlia Ray and Deboy with his friend, James “Hoghead” Campbell. Pernell always wanted to be Deboy, and Campbell would be Earlia Ray.
It was the influence of these two law officers that no doubt led both Pernell and Campbell to careers in law enforcement years later.
Pernell said he credits both of these men for getting where he is today. Pernell said things were tough for them being the first Afro-American deputies and that they opened up doors that allowed him and other Afro-Americans to pursue careers in law enforcement, Pernell worked under Deboy who showed him the ropes.
Over the years, Pernell said he would hear the stories told by Deboy and Earlia Ray such as when Earlia Ray was shot in Floyd Dale and Deboy rushed him to the hospital. Earlia Ray spent 19 days in the hospital.
Earlia Ray served as a deputy for 14 years. At a portrait hanging at the Dillon County Courthouse in 2008, Judge James E. Lockemy said Earlia Ray was “a man of respect—a man who got respect and a man who deserved respect.”
Deboy served as a deputy for more than 25 years retiring in 1996. He then went on to 12 years of distinguished service on the Dillon County Council.
Pernell said both men are historically important because they paved the way for others in their community.
Even though both of these men have now passed away, their struggles and their story of overcoming obstacles and barriers is still an example for others today, and their legend lives on.
By Betsy Finklea