Black History Month Series

My Black History: Grandaddy Deacon Eugene “Sweets” Wilson

On this last week of the Black History Month series, I’ve been focusing on the accomplishments of those in my family tree. Yesterday I reflected on the life and legacy of my father’s mother. The experience was enlightening, learning about her accomplishments gave me a unique sense of pride. I never met my father’s mother, as she passed a few years before my birth, but learning about her added value to my father and I’s relationship. After putting the piece together to send to him, he told me that reading through it made him shed a tear. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to research and reflect on the lives of my ancestors so today I want to honor the life of my mother’s father, Deacon Eugene “Sweets” Wilson, my granddaddy.
Eugene Wilson was born in Detroit, Michigan to his father Benjamin Aaron, a solider in the United States Army, and his mother Jeanette, who worked as a mail woman for the United States Postal Service. He was one of 4 siblings; three brothers: Byron ‘Gerb’, Joey and Brent; and one sister Joe Alice Harper. Eugene attended River Rouge High School and completed his studies as apart of the graduating class of 1965. According to Marvin Popyk, one of his classmates, “Sweets was one of the most well liked members of our class. Just a wonderful guy with a great personality and sense of humor”. Along with being a class clown my grandfather was a valuable member of River Rouge High School’s swimming, football and track team. An April 1965 edition of the River Rouge Herald, the high school newspaper, reported my grandfather’s winning track records: first in 120 yard low hurdles at 13.2 seconds and the 120 yard high hurdles at 15.8 seconds; he also ran as a part of 4×4 880 relay. Learning about his track records made my heart flutter because I ran in the 4×4 400 and 800 relays on my high school track team. I also played point guard in basketball throughout grade school. Knowing that my grandfather was an athletic in school gave me a better understanding of myself. When we learn about the passions and tenants of those before us, we can be surprised by the similarities. Their talents and passions continue to course through our veins, their spirits live on in us.
After graduating high school he worked at Ford motor company to support his young family. Shortly after his high school graduation he’d married my grandmother, Gwendolyn Wilson and they had three children: Eugene Jr, Danielle (Dolly), and Micheal Wilson. After leaving Ford he worked for the Detroit Department of Transportation driving the DDOT bus. He’d use his shift to show his oldest son, Eugene, around the city of Detroit. There he taught him the different routes, pathways and landmarks of the city. My grandfather loved driving the bus and he always loved his work, no matter what field he was in he made sure to invest his time into what he enjoyed. He drove the city bus for years before enrolling in Alma Beauty College, a cosmetology school in Detroit, there he got his cosmetology certification and began working as a hair dresser at Catherine’s salon. For many years he worked at Catherine’s and when the salon branched out to Atlanta, GA Eugene took the opportunity to move with the salon and experience life in a new part of the country. He moved to Atlanta to work for the newest branch of Catherine’s in 1984. After gaining some experience he got a stylist position at ‘Hair Designers’ and after years of working in the salon he purchased it from the owner and renamed it ‘Eugene of Detroit Hair Designers’. After a few years the previous owner came to work for him, the salon was located on Campellton Rd. in Atlanta, GA. I have fond memories of my grandfather’s salon. I was always astonished by his owning a business, his ownership of the building, the products, all the chairs and the staff. I saw him as a superhero with shears. He’d always style mine and my mothers hair when we visited and I always felt like a princess sitting in his chair. Every year around Thanksgiving and Christmas my mother would drive my cousins and I on the twelve-hour road trip from Detroit to my grandfather’s home in Atlanta. I’d look forward to food, family and my grandparents huge water-bed that they’d let me fall asleep in. He and his wife, my grandma Pat, would open their home to host the most incredible holiday celebration. To this day those are some of the best memories I have with my grandad, uncles, aunts and cousins. Once Christmas break ended and we’d have to make the twelve-hour trip back home I’d be sad to leave. One year my grandad blew up a small light blue balloon for me so that I could take a piece of him back home. I was so excited I had my grandad’s air, I kept that balloon on display in my room until it completely deflated.
To this day when style hair in my salon, AmaniSalon I think about my grandfather’s hair business. I know he’d be so proud, and maybe even surprised to see me following in his footsteps as a hairstylist. Watching my grandfather’s business made me obsessed with hair styling. I was most interested in the dramatic transformations, how he could take a woman with thin short hair and turn her into Repunzel. I wen’t home and studied hair extensions, tried to sew tracks into the heads of my dolls until the technique felt right. Now years later my work in the salon gave me the resources and flexibility to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree. I would have never thought I’d have the ability to own a salon if I hadn’t seen my grandfather operating his own business at such a young age. His experience opened my eyes to the possibility of hair styling and business ownership, he demonstrated how a fun hobby can become a lucrative career. My grandfather became a Deacon early on in 2000s and served at Mount Carmel Baptist Church until his death in June 2010. He attributed his success, in and outside of the church, to his walk with God. He was a devout follower of Christ and lived life blessing others with his smile and attractive personality. My grandfather showed me that if you live life in love with what you do, you cannot fail.

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