After serving the Candler County Branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) as president for 25 years, William George has stepped aside, but he hasn’t retired. George, a native of Aline, joined the NAACP as a young man and became President of the local chapter in 1995.
Through all of his years of service to the organization, he has been dedicated to the mission of eliminating racial hatred and racial discrimination. George is being honored for his service in a virtual ceremony during Black History Month 2021
Over the course of his life, George has experienced many highs and lows. He was a youngster of the age of 5 when his mother, Dicey Holloway George, and a newborn sibling died after riding in an open wagon during a rainstorm. The year was 1941.
Shortly after that tragedy, the family home caught fire and burned to the ground. In that fire, two other siblings perished. His father, William George Sr., was left with four children and no house to live in. The Georges moved into the barn for a time until another house was available to them.
George’s father was remarried to a school-teacher named Armetta P. George who was George’s teacher at the one room school where he was encouraged to get a good education.
“My stepmother was instrumental in supporting me in getting an education,” states George. From his father, the elder George, he was taught the value of work and discipline.
Another lesson George learned at the one room school in Aline was leadership. Because of his taking a stand for issues in which he believed, his classmates recognized his integrity and selected him as a class officer up to the rank of class president. Even with his academics and leadership roles at school, George found success in sports, receiving honors in track as a high jumper and runner.
It was while a student in high school that George met a young woman who joined him in his quest for education and doing what is right for others.
Ruthie, his high school sweetheart, is still the love of his life. Because of his priorities and his disciplined background, the two love birds dated for 11 years before marrying because George had a desire to put first things first.
Upon graduating as salutatorian of his high school class, George considered the military for a career. His father insisted that his son finish college first. George attended Fort Valley State College, now Fort Valley State University, where he studied Vocational Agriculture. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree, his father agreed to allow him to serve in the military.
The way George carried himself in the Army garnered him respect from his fellow soldiers as well as officers. He was stationed overseas in Germany for three years, never calling home on the telephone for the entire length of time.
“Calling home was too expensive,” George explains. Instead he wrote letters and exhibited the frugality he learned from his father.
After leaving the service, George returned to Candler County and began farming with his father while he considered his options. He had the idea that he wanted to leave Candler County.
“I wanted to move away and come home for the holidays like many others had done,” he says. “However, God had other plans for me.” Among those plans were for George to serve the people of Candler County.
A principal from the Candler County School System called George. There was a vital need in the local school. The Vocational Agriculture teacher had been seriously injured in an automobile accident and would be out of the classroom for some time. The principal, knowing George’s background in Vocational Agriculture, asked the young man to serve as a long-term substitute until the permanent teacher was able to return. That teacher never came back to the class, and George laughs that he was hired for the job he held for 19 years without ever having a job interview.
As the Agriculture teacher, George became the advisor for the vocational organization now known as the Future Farmers of America (FFA).
Prior to the 1960s, there were two separate organizations for students interested in agriculture. The FFA was for white students only. The National New Farmers of America was the organization for African American students. The two groups had only recently merged when George became the organization’s sponsor at the Candler County Training School, Metter’s school for African American children prior to integration of schools.
George was determined that his students would be treated with the utmost respect within the organization. He often challenged the leadership of the FFA for the good of his students. He taught his students to respectfully speak up for what is right and to not allow their voices to be silenced. Through his teaching, many of his FFA members received state awards from the organization, even having one student serve as State President of the FFA.
While George was teaching agriculture, times were changing. The Civil Rights Movement was a nationwide movement. George and others took an active role in ushering in change to Candler County.
“I remember several of us met with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” he recalls. He also remembers meeting with former President Jimmy Carter when he was a candidate for the nation’s highest office.
Local schools were integrated, and George continued teaching agriculture to youngsters, both black and white. While doing this, he felt a calling to enter the field of Educational Administration. He prepared for that by attending graduate school at Georgia Southern as well as Clemson University, earning two Masters degrees as well certification in administration. He was prepared for what was coming next.
When the local schools integrated, the African American principal from Candler County Training School was moved into a principal’s position. After some years, that gentleman, Mr. Elmer Collins, retired.
George, prepared with certification in hand, spoke with the local school superintendent about filling the position. The superintendent indicated that the school system wanted to hire someone from outside of the community. George, being well-respected in the African American community, was represented by members of the local Ministerial Alliance who visited the school superintendent to point out that there was no need to look beyond the county lines for a principal. The message was, “William George Jr. is qualified and ready for the position.”
Again, without a job interview, William George had a new position, one that he held for 16 years.
Once George retired from his educational career, he was able to devote more time to the NAACP. As president, he recalls attending many state and national conventions.
“A highlight was being able to listen to the many distinguished speakers who addressed the conventions,” he says. Among those speakers were several United States Presidents. “You can’t get higher than that!” George laughs, adding that he can’t even remember how many Presidents he has heard speak.
Another highlight of being President of the local chapter is the chapter becoming a Certified Branch of the NAACP. This was a major undertaking. Once the requirements were completed, with the help of long-time secretary Ava Hendrix, the Candler County Chapter earned the right to vote at the State and National NAACP Conventions.
The Metter group then worked to help branches of the NAACP in other counties reorganize and make a difference in their communities.
In his role as President, George continued to lobby for the rights of African Americans, both locally and beyond.
“Representing the NAACP, I would stand up for people and try to help them,” he explains. Sometimes that took the form of meeting with representatives of the school system, other times, visiting jails and talking with the sheriff on someone’s behalf. George recalls that the local group’s standing up for others took them to South Carolina where they marched in protest to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds.
A task that George is proud to continue to do is one that he had done since its inception. That is organizing and working with the local MLK Day parade. He is tasked with making sure the parade starts on time and then directing the parade through town.
Of his retirement from the presidency of the NAACP, George admits, “There is still work to do – there will always be work to do.” He adds, “But it is time for me to step aside.” In stepping aside, he is not quitting.
“I’m not dead yet,” quips George. He plans to continue supporting the local branch of the NAACP as a member because helping others is the right thing to do. He passes the gavel to Ophelia Kennedy Gaines. Gaines says that even though she is now the group’s president, George is her back up! After all that William George has done for the community, Gaines has big shoes to fill. Says George, “It’s time for her to buy some shoes and wear them as her own.”
Because of his decades of service to the NAACP and the community, George has received many accolades. He is on the Executive Board of Action Pact. He has been the grand marshal of both the MLK parade and the Metter High School Homecoming Parade, an honor he shared with his lifelong love, his wife Ruthie George, also a retired educator. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award for the Masonic and Easter Star, the Imagine Award for Education, and Teacher of the Year. He is a Lifetime Member of the NAACP.
George’s legacy continues with his family members as well as through the many young people he taught and worked with in his education career.
His daughter, Felecia George Prince, is a retired teacher. His grandsons, Jalen Prince and Caleb Green, learned at his knee as he did at his father’s. Both young men have served on the NAACP Youth Council.
Regularly stopped by adults who were his former students, many say, “Mr. George, you haven’t changed!” They often comment on things that George did that left a lasting impression of their lives.
About that, he says, “It looked like there were things that needed to be done.”
William George is being honored by the State NAACP to receive a regional honor in a virtual program for Black History Month 2021.
George says humbly, “I didn’t do the things I have done for awards. I did it because it needed to be done, and there is still work to do.”
Special thanks to Felecia Prince for background information used in this story.