- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

PERRYVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Raymond Hall is a staple in Perryville.

He’s lived in the city since he married a local woman in 1946.

At 92, with another birthday approaching in November, he can recall names, dates and other information about the changes he’s seen since he was born in 1922.

“A lot happened in 90-some years,” Hall said with a smile. “Everything’s different. Some things better, some not.”

Hall was born in Virginia but spent much of his childhood in McKinney, following the death of his mother in 1927. He was 7 at the time.

“I never will forget her, all I live. I’d know her now if she walked in the door,” he said. She was sick at the time and warned the children of her passing, telling them to “be good children.”

“Things like that lay on your mind, and you don’t forget it,” Hall said.

Before she passed away, Hall said, “Momma told Daddy to bring us back to her people.”

He did, and Hall spent the rest of his childhood in the home of his aunt and uncle, a handyman and jack of all trades. He credits his aunt for teaching him about life in general.

Hall completed 10 years at a one-room schoolhouse in McKinney, which was not segregated, because there were too few students to have one school or the other.

Things weren’t easy for the family, he said. For example, he got one pair of shoes every year. If something happened to the shoes, he simply had to go without.

Hall worked hard over the years, starting by raising pigs and earning a car.

“I paid 50 cents for a runt pig. I raised it and bred it. She had 15 pigs. I traded her and got my first automobile. I was 15 years old. A 1929 Chevrolet. I still have the pump for the car.”

Growing up, Hall spent his free time hunting. He began working with a blacksmith and eventually went to work on the railroad.

It was during the Depression, and African-Americans would work as common laborers on the railroads but weren’t allowed to work on the machines.

“At that time, I forged my age; you had to be a certain age to get on the railroad,” Hall said. “Those were the best jobs you could get.”

Things weren’t always smooth with other co-workers. Hall eventually got to work on the machines but often found his machine to be targeted, battling passive racism from those who didn’t want him there. It was a much different world in the late 1930s, early 1940s, and Hall had to battle racism throughout his life.

In 1943, he was drafted into the Army. During his three years of service, Hall obtained a Good Conduct ribbon, an Asiatic-Pacific Theater ribbon with a Bronze Service Star, an American Theater Ribbon and a World War II Victory Medal. He drove a truck and became a sharpshooter, relying on skills learned much earlier in life.

“I told them I was from Kentucky, that’s how we made a living,” he said with a smile. “I made sharpshooter. They called us Kentucky hillbillies.”

He spent much of that time stationed in New Guinea.

“I’d like to see that,” Hall said. “They tell me they’ve got towns over there now.”

Hall’s tenure in the Army ended in 1946, and he came back to the area, returning to work on the railroad. With a smile, he sang songs from when he worked on the railroad. The workers would sing as they hit the bars and lined the track.

“Some of them is smutty, and some of them ain’t,” Hall said. “It’s just like dancing.”

In December 1946, Hall married Lilly May Sleet, a Perryville native who had attended high school in Danville. That’s how the two met.

Lilly May, who died in 1977, was a licensed practical nurse at Kentucky State Hospital and obtained her registered nursing degree.

Together, Hall and his wife had two children, Phyllis and Gary. He has four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

These days, he spends much of his time rambling around Perryville and is a bit of a staple at Mr. Miser’s store.

The world has changed a lot since he was a child, and especially since his grandmother was a child. She was a slave, Hall said, and would tell him stories about her life.

“I think of Martin Luther (King Jr.). One day, he had a dream that the white community would be hand-in-hand with (the African-American community). I’ve thought about this, and I’ve lived to see it in this town. Black mayor, black police, and out there on the railroad, there’s an engineer, a black woman. She was born and raised here. They say she’s the best one out there,” he said. “Time cures everything.”


Information from: The (Danville, Ky.) Advocate-Messenger, https://www.centralkynews.com/amnews

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