Louie Hall Sr. was a pioneer—not only for his family but for an entire race.
But, little did people know that before Louie Hall Sr. became the first black Sheriff in Texas after Reconstruction, he had two sons who made milestones before he did.
His son, the late Curtis Ray Hall, was the first black drum major at Breckenridge High School.
His son Louie Hall Jr. was one of the first black football players at Breckenridge High School after integration.
But, watching him while growing up as a young black kid in Breckenridge, I never dwelled on him being a “first.”
My last big conversation with my uncle was on a trip to the memorial service of his youngest sister in Las Vegas, Nev.
See, my Uncle Son, as I called him, wasn't much of a guy who liked to fly.
So, I, along with my mother, volunteered to make the trip with him.
Little did I know that this was going to be a trip down memory lane that I would never forget.
We pulled out of my driveway about 6 a.m. central time. I was driving.
We talked about my family, kids, jobs and all that stuff you do when it's been a few months apart.
Then, we started talking about what life was like for him growing up in Breckenridge.
Now, this was where my Uncle Son was at his best. He could tell some mean stories.
Now, he might lay it on thick a time or two, but he could have you doubled over in a matter of seconds.
He talked about how they grew up as kids—playing basketball and baseball and running around the streets of Breckenridge.
He talked about going to school at the now-defunct Booker T. Washington school before it was integrated into Breckenridge ISD.
As the miles and times grew shorter, Uncle Son would talk about later in life how people were mistreated because of the color of their skin and how segregation was in his day growing up.
You could hear it in his voice. It was rough for him growing up—a hell of a lot rougher than I thought I had it coming up as a child.
But, not once, did I ever hear him wish ill will upon anyone. Not once did he ever sound bitter.
“Uncle Son, how did ya'll let that stuff go as a kid?” I asked.
“I was always raised that you want to treat people like you wanted to be treated,” he said.
I could hear the sincerity in his voice.
He told me stories about how he broke into being a Sheriff's Deputy back in the 1970s and how he became Stephens County Sheriff.
He was humble and very appreciative. He would ask me if people he worked with were still alive or living in Breckenridge.
He would ask if someone who used to work under him was still in law enforcement.
If I would answer “yes,” you could see him have that boastful smile as if he was a father watching his child take his first steps.
He had some interesting accomplishments during our three-day whirlwind trip.
He talked about the time he actually did fly to New York City to be on the Johnny Carson Show. “Man, I was so glad to get out of that place,” he said. He talked about the times when he would have to arrest people or take them to jail. As a little kid, one of the highlights was getting to ride in the courthouse elevator to the top floor, which housed the jail and the sheriff's quarters. There were times when my grandmother would fix meals to take to my uncle and his wife Peggy, when she would fall ill. During that time, I would always get a makeshift “tour” of the jail, along with getting to “hang out” with some of the inmates.
“Uncle Son, I can remember when you took me to the jail, I would always ask the prisoners ‘What did you steal?'” I quipped with a chuckle. “Yeah, I remember that,” he said with that hearty laugh. “I bet you didn't know that most of them boys you talked to did a whole lot more than steal.”
He'd tell stories about how he would arrest people and never have to brandish any type of weapon.
“Some of those boys and girls up there got treated better in jail than they did in their own lives,” he said, staring out the window while we were on our trek. “It's a shame that people could treat people like that.”
The one big story I remembered the most while my uncle was sheriff was the time when Richard “Stony Armadillo” Foster crashed on the steps of Citizens National Bank and held several employees hostage. That event, he went into the bank, talked to Foster, without a weapon, and helped authorities arrest him without harming any hostages. As we returned back to Breckenridge from our voyage, my mom and Uncle Son dropped me off at my house and then continued on their way to the Metroplex.
I didn't know at that time that our four-day visit would be the last time I would see him. We talked on occasion through phone calls or messages. But, when the dust settled, I know that our trip was good enough for us. We caught up, reconnected and made more memories on our own. For about two days, I watched Louie Hall Sr. own Las Vegas. We went places. People would ask him who he was. He would say he's from Texas. They would answer “We could tell because only people from Texas wear hats and boots like that.” I didn't say a word. All I did was laugh. Now, after I learned of his passing. I shed more than a few tears because as a kid growing up, my Uncle Son was my hero. He set the standard in making me believe that I can be anything I wanted in life.
I would ask him as a kid, “Uncle Son, with a hat that big and those guns, don't you need a horse to go along with it?” He'd laugh and tell me “Only the Lone Ranger was the one who needed a horse. And, sometimes, I need a little more help than just Tonto.”
I can assure you now that he has the biggest white hat in Heaven and I'm sure he's got a lot more stories to tell.