By Earline Smith Crews
Guest Writer 



January 30, 2020

Mr. Robert Watts, born Dec. 5, 1883 died Jan. 10, 1965. Buried at Amity Cemetery in Tunnel Springs, Alabama.

This writer remembers this man circa 1947-48 when he lived with, and worked for the second time, in the home for the Eric & Lottie Odom family here in Barnett Crossroads Community. The home of Mr. Eric and Mrs. Lottie Johnson Odom had half of their fourteen children still living at home when Mrs. Lottie was again in need of domestic help. Mr. Rob Watts lived in the Odom home where his main duty was washing clothes and helping cook.

Rob was a nanny. Rob was a domestic. Rob was a believer. Rob was a black man.

This story was told to me by my lifelong friend Darryl Searcy. I knew him as my oldest brother Rayford Smith's friend and classmate. We called Darryl, "Dobber" the nickname given by his youngest brother Shelby.

Darryl was just a young child when his mother Georgia Pauline passed away at the age of 35 in 1943. Darryl's dad, Mr. Gus worked for a large timber and lumber company that required his absence from the home Monday thru Friday. Darryl's mother was taken sick and put into the hospital on Nov. 2nd. Ten days later Mrs. Pauline died leaving six children. The day Mrs. Pauline was admitted to the hospital the oldest son Cecil, turned 18 and was required to register for military draft. Our country was in the fight against Germany and Japan. The draft was calling. Cecil Searcy registered for the draft and his mother died within days.

Mr. Gus was left with these motherless children to raise. Having no relatives living nearby, a grandmother came to stay and help with the children and domestic chores until things could be worked out. She lived about sixty miles away and couldn't take on the burden of leaving her own home and life to do a fulltime job of raising the grandchildren.

The children under Cecil were Thorold, age 13, twins, Ouida a girl and Ray a boy, age 10, Darryl age 8 and the baby boy, Shelby, age 5.

Several Aunts had offered to take the children so Mr. Gus could return to work away from home. He couldn't bring himself to split the children up so he looked for help.

The oldest son Cecil, now 18 years old was drafted into military service the following January of 1944. He being sent to war was no help in raising the motherless children.

Living near the Searcy family was a family who had help with domestic duties as the mother in that home was in poor health and had needed help with the children. At this time a few of the oldest of fourteen Odom children were now grown and gone. The Odom's agreed to release the man from employment. Mr. Eric and Mrs. Lotttie understood the need for help the Searcy family faced. Mr. Gus asked the man if he would be willing to come work for his family while he was away from to work during the week.

The old man, Rob Watts agreed to help.

A bedroom was prepared for his use and he became a substitute mother, taking over the chores usually performed by the woman of the house.

Darryl recalls that when the man was introduced to the children he called himself, " N----- Rob" and suggested they call him by that title. Mr. Gus wouldn't allow the Searcy Children to call him by that name, but they could call him Rob.

Rob was not aware of political correctness and did not mind at all being a black man.

Darryl and Shelby being the youngest children took to the old man without any hesitation, but at first he was an oddity.

Rob never wore shoes in the house and remained bare-foot all day.

Darryl shared that little Shelby thought it strange the old man's feet were a pale yellow. Shelby would rub the soles of Rob's feet to try making them the same color as he was all over. Shelby soon learned he couldn't get the color to rub off onto his hands so he could rub it on to the bottom of Rob's feet.

When Rob rocked Shelby in the evenings, Shelby would rub Rob's short, stiff hair because it was so different than white hair. Rob would lower his head as if falling asleep to allow Shelby to rub his head all he wanted to.

That act tells this writer that Rob had a soft place in his heart for that little motherless boy and knew he needed this comfort of being rocked and taken care of.

Rob would rock Shelby and Darryl while he sang this negro spiritual remembered here word for word by Darryl:

A Wheel in A Wheel

Ezekiel saw that wheel

Way up in the middle of the air

Ezekiel saw that wheel whirling

Way up in the middle of the air

Now the little wheel runs by the grace of God

And a wheel in a wheel whirling

Way up in the middle of the air

Tell you what a hypocrite he will do

Way up in the middle of the air

He'll talk about me and he'll talk about you

Way up in the middle of the air.

Darryl said, "Throughout his time with us we just called him Rob, but when friends would drop by the old fellow would introduce himself as, "N-----Rob"

According to Darryl,

Rod was a person that could show love for a child, but he could be very strict when he felt discipline was necessary.

" He never spanked but would take away privileges and appeared to be stern when issuing corrections.

" In summertime, we had lots of fun as he would take us fishing and let us play in the creek. He often pitched ball for the boys."

" He helped Ouida the only girl in the house of boys with making a new doll dress."

Rob claimed to know how to sew simple things which the Searcy brothers laughed at him because they felt sewing was a woman's job. The laughter didn't bother Rob, he did what was necessary.

Rob could not read or write, having never been to school, but he saw to it that the Searcy children went to school and did not miss a day. He made sure the children did their homework.

Rob depended on the children to read to him, especially when it came to reading instructions on a medicine bottle.

Over time Rob saw to it that the children learned to cook and clean the house. They didn't like that duty, but with time Darryl shared that they all appreciated the things that Rob had taught them.

By the time Darryl graduated high school he said he noticed that Rob was losing his eyesight. Rob told Mr. Gus that he wanted to retire and go live with his elderly widowed sister in Tunnel Springs, Alabama.

Shortly before Rob left the family Mr. Gus had changed jobs to be with the family at night with the smaller kids.

Darryl shared, " The day was a sad one for us and our dad as he took Rob to live with his former employers late in the year of 1947 leaving the Searcy children in tears."

Rob again lived with the former employers, the Eric & Lottie Odom family for a short time doing the domestic work he had always done.

Humble and quietly going about his daily duties to take care of the people he was hired to take care for. He surely had a Godly heart that showed these people he truly cared for his fellow man. He must have been a happy man to have chosen to live here at this time and take care of little children and feeble old folks that especially needed his care.

Eventually Rob returned to Tunnel Springs to visit his widowed sister. His visit lasted his remaining lifetime.

Rob ended his years in almost total blindness. He died on Jan. 10, 1965. He is buried in the Amity Cemetery at Tunnel Springs.

Darryl and the Searcy Family learned that Rob had been a cook in the army during WW I, and while it took some time to recover the records and apply for a marker the Veterans Affairs office in Monroe County made the request for a grave marker through the VA office in Montgomery for help with research to verify his military service. Finally a marker was supplied and placed on his grave circa 1970.

"Rob would be very proud of his marker".

" Shortly after Rob left our home, Therold turned 18, our sister Ouida and her twin Ray turned 15. Most of the housework was left to us and a neighbor lady that came to make suggestions, iron our clothes and taught us how to can vegetables from our garden for making soup using the pressure cooker.

In reference to Rob and his steady loving guidance for the motherless Searcy children, Darryl said, " With time we all became adults, finished our educations, married and raised our own families. We've never been in jail, we turned out to be good citizens, voters and Christians. Dear Old Rob would not have wanted it to be any other way".

A graveside memorial and reception by the Searcy & Odom children honored Rob with this eulogy:

" It is not the memory of a man that the community of Barnett Crossroads in Escambia County found a braver, more gallant young champion for this Afro-American whose dust lies beneath. He was never in bondage and his soul is unconquered still. We say the word softly, as he would want us to:

Rob, who was a master most meticulous in his song of a wheel within a wheel. Nobody knew better than he the power that words have over the minds of the many children he cared for. Rob stopped being a "Negro" many years ago when the word became too small, too puny, too weak for him. He was Rob and so much more. In voice so sweet he sang:

" Ezekiel saw a wheel in a wheel

Way up in the middle of the air.

Now Ezekiel saw the wheel in a wheel,

Way up in the middle of the air.

And the big wheel run by Faith

And the little wheel run by the Grace of God.

In the wheel in the wheel in the wheel good Lord,

Way up in the middle of the air"



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