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AU News

Book Celebrates Father’s Christlike Legacy, Imparts Important Lesson for Today

February 1, 2022
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Former Board of Trust Chair Don Harper shares his father's life and legacy as a Psalm 1 man.

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Blessed is the Man is a book that tells the story about the simple faith of an African American dirt farmer and God accomplishing the impossible in the segregated South.

That dirt farmer was Lloyd Harper Sr., the father of Don Harper, former chair of the Anderson University Board of Trust and retired business leader. As he rose through the ranks of Goodyear, a major tire manufacturer, Harper found himself drawing from his father’s wisdom.

“When I got into a role of facilitating management discussions about leadership, I found myself telling stories about my Dad and how he managed the farm,” Harper said. “Understand, I’m telling these folks about a man who had a third-grade education. Dad knew how to use resources—the farm bureau, anyone who could tell him about fertilizing and stuff. All kinds of men came to the farm and gave him suggestions about rotating crops and that kind of stuff. So Dad was a great person about networking and knowing how to utilize resources. I found myself telling the management leadership stories about this guy and people were saying ‘you ought to write a book about that.’’’

It would be many years before Harper would pursue the book idea. 

A few years after retiring to South Carolina, Harper went to see Dr. Dan Boxwell, an ear, nose and throat specialist, about an ear infection. Looking back on that day, Harper didn’t recall how much he mentioned his father in his conversation with the young doctor, but two years later, he returned for an appointment about another ailment. During that appointment Dr. Boxwell brought up what Harper shared about his father. Harper was astounded by his detailed memory of the story; it was almost verbatim. 

“That day I decided I needed to write the story about Dad,” Harper said. 

(Dr. Boxwell also later joined Harper’s Sunday School Class at Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, South Carolina.)

Journey to Publication

Dr. Rudy Gray, Harper’s former pastor and also editor of The Baptist Courier, had begun a process to encourage first-time authors to write a book. 

“The Courier offered resources of a ghost writer and I used the input of Robert, my next oldest brother, as a content expert,” Harper said. Through the Courier he found a talented writer, Abigale Belcher Ogden, and an artist who painted a cover illustration that accurately depicts the moments prior to that pivotal event in Lloyd’s life. Harper also received valuable advice from Toy Fitzgerald, who used his knowledge of authoring to help him find ways to make the book more engaging and easier to read.

Lloyds’ Life and Legacy

In Blessed is the Man, Harper describes his father, Lloyd Harper, as a Psalm 1 man and his mother, Walter Mae Harper, as a Proverbs 31 woman. Together they raised 13 children. Lloyd was a sharecropper who lived off the land, sold vegetables to area households and supplemented his income by doing odd jobs at farms and businesses around rural Marion, Alabama. While on the farm, the Harper children had to work hard, but they felt secure. 

Harper recalls helping his father deliver produce to white residents in Marion and nearby communities. They were forbidden from going to the front door—they had to go around to the back. Still, he recalls the kind, Christlike manner of how his father did business with the white families and his grace and generosity to make right any issues there might have been during the transactions. 

Among Harper’s early memories of discrimination came when at age 8 he walked into a store in downtown Selma and asked a man at the lunch counter for an ice cream cone. His mother quickly grabbed him and told him never to do such a thing again. Riding with his father in Marion, Harper remembered a white man making his father pull off the road. Feeling he was cut off at an intersection, the man hurled epithets and insults at Lloyd, but he didn’t react; he just kept both hands on the steering wheel and looked ahead, remaining calm until the man left. This early lesson in civility was unforgettable to Harper.

It was in this environment that a miracle happened, and thus the book’s theme of the power of a loving God to bless far beyond what seemed possible at the time.

With God all things are possible

Blessed is the Man sets the tone for a book that proclaims God’s amazing story of impossibilities. 

“I’m not putting it up anywhere close to Abraham, Joseph and Daniel in the lion’s den, but God’s story in that first chapter is that there’s no way in the world that this man should be able to accomplish this vision of owning a farm,” he said.

In 1942 Lloyd rode to town on his mule-drawn wagon to see somebody at the Marion Bank and Trust Company about getting a loan. Patiently waiting behind the white customers who were given priority in line, Lloyd finally met with Jeff Blackburn, a bank employee.

It would appear the odds were against Lloyd. After all, he was an African American dirt farmer without a steady income. The logic of the day would strongly favor the white owners of neighboring dairy and cattle farms who might want to acquire the 80 acres of prime farmland; however, Harper writes in his book that Blackburn was also a Psalm 1 man—a man of Christian principle who believed in Lloyd.

“If I was the guy at the bank dealing with Dad and my job was to have people meet these five or six criteria, I would have to turn my dad down for the loan, but in some way God accomplished it,” Harper said. 

Harper said, “I don’t know what kind of barriers he went through. I’m sure he had to go through many of them—the board and somebody approving. He was not the chief financial officer of the bank; he was down in the hierarchy. So we don’t know how he got it done or who he had to get approved by. I think he saw biblical character in men that didn’t look like him and he was able to put that in a way to help him make good business decisions.”

The loan was indeed approved, and Lloyd finally realized the dream of his own farm many years after he and Walter Mae were first married. 

Harper learned that Blackburn helped other African American men with loans, including Obie Scott, the father of Coretta Scott King, who lived in a nearby community. Blackburn later became the bank’s president.

Passing the Mantle of Leadership

When Harper was in high school, his father was in the hospital critically ill with a kidney ailment. Nevertheless, there was a cotton crop in the field and someone had to step up. This fell on Harper, who at the time was the youngest child and still lived on the farm. It was an early lesson in leadership for the 17-year old. He tells of hiring and negotiating wages for others—many older than him—to work the field and harvest the crop. The crop was successfully harvested before Lloyd passed away—no doubt offering him peace of mind in his final moments.

Further emboldened by leadership opportunities given him in the Army; Harper soon rose to the rank of sergeant while serving in South Korea. After his military stint ended, he went to work for Goodyear, ultimately becoming the vice president of human resources for Goodyear’s North America Shared Services in 2003. A few years later, he retired and moved to Salem, South Carolina with his wife Gerri. More recently they moved to Central, South Carolina. 

Harper recalls in his book, “By observing how dad excelled despite his limitations, I learned at a young age the benefits of making the most of what you’ve been given. Later, when I entered the business world, I analyzed Dad’s approach to cotton growing and adapted it to apply to any position of management.” 

Lasting Lessons

Of Lloyd’s legacy, Harper says, “I can go back to Marion now 58 years after he died and if I’m there two days, somebody, either African American or white, is going to walk up to me and say ‘aren’t you a Harper?’ and then he’s going to tell me a story about my Dad.”

Beyond the history aspect, Blessed is the Man presents a great starting point for discussing race.

“Chapter one to me is a great facilitator to help people to discuss race and the things around race without getting people to point fingers,” he said. “We have to talk about Critical Race Theory and all that other stuff; I don’t even know what the definition of that is, but I can tell you that Mr. Blackburn and Lloyd Harper were able to get together and overcome whatever was out there. That’s what we need to be doing as far as race relations is concerned, because if those two guys can do that in 1942 then we ought to be able to do that.”

At the end of each chapter of Blessed is the Man is a series of questions intended for self-examination, prompting readers to ask themselves what they would do in situations faced by Lloyd—to put themselves in his shoes.

“The challenge is to take that book and use those questions. You don’t have to be thinking about somebody being black, green or whatever—it asks you questions that you can make a judgment based on Lloyd Harper and Mr. Blackburn. You don’t have to be talking about what’s going on in today’s environment but you ought to learn some things,” Harper said. Because of this emphasis on self-examination, Blessed is the Man was used as a resource for a Sunday School class in Texas, and Harper hopes it can be used similarly with incoming Anderson students.

Pauline Nichol, who attended Anderson University’s Diversity Leadership Scholarship Competition with her daughter in 2021, was moved when she heard Harper speak at the event. She picked up a copy of Blessed is the Man. Impacted by the stories of the Harper family and how they rose above racial discrimination, she said, “I believe that if everyone could be raised by Lloyd and Walter Mae we wouldn’t see the brokenness we see all around us today.” 

Harper and Nichol spoke candidly about the book’s questions and her responses. She said that if she were in a home in the 1940s she hoped she would have thrown the front door open and welcomed the Harpers, and then endure any backlash that might come from a neighbor who witnessed it.

Harper said of Nichol, “She put herself in that position. That’s the way race relations can be talked about rather than all of the ugly emotions we deal with.” Reflecting on the responses of Nichol brought to Harper’s mind a quote from Benjamin Franklin: 

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Blessed is the Man is published by Courier Publishing and is available at AU Outfitters in a special new section devoted to authors with Anderson University connections. It can also be found at as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

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