Americus native pens book about brother, casualty of Civil Rights era
Published 1:10 pm Wednesday, August 15, 2018
By Beth Alston
AMERICUS — With Americus and Sumter County having witnessed pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s, there is an ongoing effort to keep the stories alive for future generations. The Americus-Sumter County Movement Committee Inc. has undertaken several projects. Among them is its alliance with the City Federation of Colored Women for the use of the historic Colored Hospital building as the Americus Civil Rights and Family History Center. This group of determined people, many of them foot soldiers in the movement, will make sure the struggle for justice during the 1960s is not forgotten.
But there is one piece of the history of this time that is rarely mentioned in books or articles. It’s the story of the brief life of Andrew (Andy) Aultman Whatley Jr., a 21-year-old bystander who was shot and killed on July 29, 1965.
His story was reported in the pages of the Americus Times-Recorder at the time, but many have since forgotten it.
Andy Whatley’s sister, Faye Whatley Thompson, who now lives in Florida, had always wanted to find a way to make sure her brother is not forgotten, so after many years, she has finally published a book, “Precious in His Sight,” about the life and death of Andy Whatley.
Thompson said she had always enjoyed the writing process.
“Through the years, I have enjoyed writing articles and have had some published,” she told the Times-Recorder. “I can’t pinpoint any time or reason that I decided to write a book about my family, but once I started it, it just all came together.”
She said she had to stop writing at one point, struggling with whether or not to share with her readers the difficult time her family went through with her alcoholic father. An unfaithful husband, gambler, and an insufficient provider for his wife and children, he was out of work quite a bit during the Depression when jobs were rare.
Thompson’s mother had to go to work at the Manhattan shirt factory in Americus to support herself and her three children.
Thompson said that ultimately, she made the decision to write about her upbringing, warts and all. She said a friend had reminded her that in the Bible, characters such as David and Solomon had at first lived sinful lives but later repented, were saved and were considered men of God.
The family may have been poor but their mother sewed beautifully and made most of their clothes.
Although the Whatley children were taught to hold their heads up, Thompson admits that it was difficult at times writing about something that was so painful for your family.
“Most people, like me, are embarrassed to share the dark side of their family for fear people will not like or respect me anymore,” she said. “At my age now, it doesn’t really matter. I believe that our true friends will still love us in spite of all of our ugly baggage.”
Her book tells the stories of growing up in the little town of Americus, attending school, dating, and ultimately marrying and moving away. There was definitely a class distinction between the haves and have-nots, and Thompson also addresses that issue in her very readable book.
Andy Whatley was born March 10, 1944, at the old Prather Clinic, which stood at the corner of Church and Jackson streets. Early on, his mother knew there was something amiss with her infant son. His difficulties were a result of an RH problem with the mother’s blood. The child started life with physical disabilities but later managed to overcome them by sheer willpower.
The three Whatley children had jobs starting when they were still in school. Faye enjoyed singing in the school chorus and every other extra-curricular activity she could manage to fit in, and made enough money to buy her clothes in high school. She especially enjoyed church camp. Andy sold Grit newspapers.
Though his development was slow, Andy had a sweet personality, according to sister Faye. He had trouble in school keeping up with the other students, and was ultimately expelled at age 16. He worked various jobs around town. He was advised by a doctor to work out with weights which would help his posture, and he did, along with running laps every day.
He ultimately “caught up” mentally and physically, according to Faye. He grew into a six-foot-three-inch-tall, handsome young man. He saved enough money to buy a red Ford Thunderbird convertible. When he received his draft notice, he decided to choose his military branch. He qualified for the Marines and was notified to report to boot camp on Nov. 1.
That summer of 1965, Americus was rife with protests. Andy Whatley would be cut down in the prime of his life as an innocent bystander.
Faye Thompson was asked what purpose seeing her book published can serve.
“In the South, I grew up at a time when segregation/integration was a major concern, and our country was experiencing a difficult period that divided us, causing heartache and sadness,” she said. “However, over the years, there have been some major changes that made us aware that all people, regardless of race, color or creed are made in the image of God. The sad conclusion is that, discrimination will raise its ugly head from now until the end of time, but hopefully, some of us will make an effort to change that attitude and make our world a better place to live.”
Faye Whatley Thompson and her husband David William Thompson Jr. live in Mexico Beach, Fla., and have been married for 63 years. They have five adult sons, 14 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Thompson’s book is available at The Maze in downtown Americus, she hopes to have a book-signing locally in the near future. Americus natives will recognize many of the names and places mentioned in the book.