- Associated Press - Monday, February 20, 2017

GREENWOOD, Miss. (AP) - For Taylor Dillard, being on the front line in the push for civil rights was just part of the job.

Dillard, 67, a route processor and administrator with Clark Beverage Group, has worked for six CocaCola companies in Greenwood since 1969 - or, as he puts it, “I’ve been bought and sold six times.”

CocaCola Bottling Works of Greenwood hired Dillard as its first African-American salesman in May 1969.

The company’s business model then was completely different from what is today, he said.

“You had a truckload of CocaColas. You had two people on the truck. The way it used to be, one man just set up and collected money, and the other man did all the work. They were both supposed to be working,” he said jokingly.

Typically, in those days, a white driver would tend to the money, and a black helper unloaded the truck.

“The white man made the black man drive the truck, made him unload it, made him load it back while he’d go in there and sit on a counter in the store and smoke a cigarette,” Dillard said. “When he got the money, he’d make the black drive to the next stop.

“I got one of the jobs where you set up and collected the money and the other guy did the work,” he said. “That’s the way it was.”

Of course, nothing would have happened without the Greenwood Movement.

Led by the Rev. M.J. Black, pastor of Turner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Rev. William Wallace, pastor of Jennings Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Greenwood Movement engaged in a citywide boycott of white businesses seeking one goal - the hiring of black employees.

“The black people had the whole city boycotted because they had black people doing nothing,” Dillard said.

Charlie Spells, whom Dillard described as the “one who broke the ice,” began working as a wholesale milk truck driver for Midwest Dairy in 1968. Rose’s Department store was the first to hire a black cashier, Dillard said. Then Liberty Cash Grocery on Main Street hired Leonard Burden, who worked there many years.

Although some stores gave in to the boycott, Gibson’s Discount never did, Dillard said.

Still, Dillard managed to find work in segregated Greenwood.

“I was about 17 or 18. I loaded a bread truck for Hart’s Bakery,” he said.

Burger Chef, then the city’s only fast food restaurant, needed a lot of buns for its hamburgers, and that presented an opportunity.

“The man who had the route couldn’t get all of the buns on the truck,” Dillard said. “There was a truckload of buns that had to be delivered on Saturday. I was so happy.”

During this time, Dillard also worked for Midwest Dairy’s ice cream department.

While on a bread truck working for Hart’s on Saturday, he drew the attention of Harrison Curtis, the general manager of the CocaCola Bottling Works of Greenwood.

“He looked at me so funny. I wondered why he was looking at me,” Dillard said.

Dillard said Curtis offered him a job two or three times, and at first he said no. But it didn’t take long for him to change his mind, adding, “I didn’t think about making history or nothing.”

Dillard had taken a sixmonth delayed entry into the Navy, so he figured any job he would get would be shortlived. Since he was his grandmother’s sole survivor, Curtis arranged for Dillard to go to Jackson to apply for a hardship discharge, which was granted.

“That was during the Vietnam War. You just couldn’t get out,” Dillard said.

“Mr. Curtis treated me as if I was kin to him,” he said.

Dillard’s weekly route ran from Main Street, worked toward Carrollton Avenue and included Amanda Elzy High School.

“It took a whole week to work it twice a week. I was doing all the jobs on the truck,” he said.

There was no racial animosity at CocaCola, he said: “I was treated just like everybody else.”

Since CocaCola Bottling Co. of Greenwood, five more companies have sold CocaCola products in Greenwood: Jackson CocaCola beginning in 1980, Biedenharn Bottling Group of Louisiana in 1986, CocaCola Enterprises in 1996, CocaCola Refreshments in 2010 and Clark Beverage Group in 2016.

After the days of selling from a loaded truck, Dillard then went into “preselling,” where he would go around and deliveries with two or three trucks were made the next day.

When Jackson CocaCola came in, Dillard was promoted to supervisor and then district sales manager. He has served as route processor and administrator the past 16 years.

“Each phase, like when Jackson CocaCola bought us, it got better, and when Biedenharn bought Coke, it got really better because if you could do the job, they’d give you the chance to do it,” he said. “You just have to want to work.”

For a time, Dillard said, the Coke man, the milk man and the bread man were the sharpest dressed men in town, wearing neckties, caps and color coordinated uniforms.

Dillard, a father of nine, also served on the Greenwood City Council from 2005 to 2009, in part because the company encouraged its employees to be civically involved.

“It’s been a good, good pleasant job,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people. A lot of people helped me, and I’ve helped a lot of people.”

___

Information from: The Greenwood Commonwealth, https://www.gwcommonwealth.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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