Gator, Glidden Chemical and Jacksonville 1962
by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)
Black Laborer by Doris Ulmann
These recollections are what I remember from the actual events.
I worked at Glidden Chemical Company in Jacksonville, Florida from 1962 to 1963. The plant was located on Moncrief Creek in the northern part of the city and had originally been founded by the Cummer family in 1910 as Standard Turpentine Company.
Gator was an old black laborer that had worked at the plant longer than any other Glidden employee. Company records showed that he started working there in 1910. He was given a gold pocket watch by the company as a gift shortly before I started working there. It was inscribed "To Gator, For 50 years of loyal service. From your Glidden family". December 11, 1960."
One of my jobs was to prepare the weekly paychecks and I noted that even though Gator had a social security number, he had only one name: Gator. Nobody knew if Gator was his first name or last name and the man himself only knew he had been called Gator as long as he could remember. His personnel records showed that he couldn't read or write. All of his signatures on the various forms in his file were marked with a big "X".
Gator had developed arthritis after years of hard labor, and wanted to retire. Although he had been paying into Social Security since 1937, he couldn't prove he was 65 years old. He had no birth certificate. Most of us believed he was at least that old if not older. But how could we prove it to the Social Security Administration. Elliott, our personnel manager, decided to go the extra mile and prove Gator was old enough to retire.
Gator knew he had been born and raised in Darien, a small town on the Altamaha River about 80 miles north of Jacksonville on the Georgia sea coast near Little St Simons Island. He also remembered that his mammy and pappy had been slaves, and that Gator was born on the very day of the "Big Hurricane". He also remembered going on Sundays with his family to an Episcopal church in Darien.
Elliott took a couple of days of personal vacation time and checked into a motel in Darien and started to do some research. Nobody he talked to remembered Gator or his family, but the preacher at the church let him search through the birth records. He found an entry for a black boy born on October 2, 1898. No name was given for the newly born infant, but the family name was shown as Thomas. He also found out that Thomas was the surname of a family that had owned many slaves in the Darien area.
He found some old newspapers at the library that had stories about a major hurricane that made landfall on nearby Cumberland Island on October 2, 1898 with winds of 135 miles per hour and massive flooding that killed at least 179 people. This evidence, along with other affidavits, was enough for Elliott to convince the Social Security people that Gator was at least 65 years old.
Shortly after, Gator and his gold watch enjoyed a nice little retirement party at Glidden before he ambled off into history.