“Stand up for something,” he said “or you will fall down for anything.”
How lofty these words sounded, and they have stayed with me for many years.
“How befitting!” I thought. Here is the man whom I admire talking about “standing” when it is just this word that my memory can relate back to him the most — standing.
He stood in the halls of William James High School as an assistant principal in 1960, and then in 1963 at Willow Hill Elementary School as principal. And he has continued to stand ever since, maintaining his air of respectability in his community and in Bulloch County as a whole. As principal, he could command a student body through his voice and his stance alone. We feared him, we respected him, we all loved him, and we still do.
He is none other than the Rev. Julius Abraham Jr., the present assistant pastor of Bethel AME Church, and the former administrator of three schools. He served as co-principal with Mr. Mason Moorer in 1980, which makes the Rev. Abraham the first black principal of Statesboro High School.
Coming from a small town, the Rev. Abraham once shared with me that he wanted to become a principal because the principals where he lived were highly respected and dressed professionally at all times, and he desired to be like them. He had a role model as a young man to help him attain his goals, and now he has become one. Thousands of his former students from all backgrounds and races credit the Rev. Abraham for making a positive difference in their lives. They succeeded because he succeeded in making education a vital part of their goals. In fact, he impacted one of his former students, City Councilman Gary Lewis, to study and get good grades by telling him that D’s and F’s on a report card do not stand for “Doing Fine!” Only the Rev. Abraham could impart such wisdom.
The Rev. Abraham is a native of North Charleston, South Carolina. He was born to Julius Abraham Sr. and his wife, Octavia. In his hometown, the Rev. Abraham spent many hours as a teen working in his father’s small grocery store. From this job, he learned diligence and a strong work ethic. As a result, he graduated valedictorian of his class and received a scholarship to Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina. Within his first two years at Allen, he was called to serve in the U.S. Air Force. When he was honorably discharged, he returned to Allen to complete his bachelor’s degree, which he received in 1954. In 1962, he received his master’s degree in education from Columbia University in New York City, where many teachers matriculated because of segregation.
After teaching in South Carolina for a few years, he learned about job opportunities in Georgia. Therefore, in 1957, he accepted a teaching position at the formerly segregated William James High School, where he taught history before becoming assistant principal. While at William James, he met his future wife, Mrs. Arneese Woods, a former teacher. They have two children, Sheryl Littles (a current teacher) and Julius Golden Abraham III, and four grandchildren. His dedication to education resulted in his being named Bulloch County’s Teacher of the Year in 1961.
Because of his integrity and his ability to “stand” on the principle of fair compromise, along with his proven community leadership, in 1971, as all-white Statesboro High School and all-black William James High School merged under desegregation, the Rev. Abraham was appointed assistant principal at Statesboro High.
“We had serious problems with respect to students getting along,” he said of the schools’ merger. “It’s a natural thing when you have a black school system and a white school system, and then all of a sudden you have one school system. It was rough. We didn’t know what was going to happen from day to day or period to period.”
As assistant principal, the Rev. Abraham helped lead and direct the school’s leadership team as the community smoothed out integration issues.
At age 86, the Rev. Abraham gives new meaning to the phrase “senior citizen” because he may have retired from being an administrator, but he has not retired from being active. Humorously, his decision to retire in 1991 was cinched when a student remarked that he had taught her grandmother. Therefore, he decided to walk away, and he has been walking ever since, literally.
A frequent walker in the past, the Rev. Abraham walked in the Statesboro Mall and in Wal-Mart and along the streets of Bulloch County. As a result, we now have the Rev. Julius Abraham Trail, named in his honor, where walkers and bikers alike can enjoy Statesboro just as he did. It was enlightening to find out that the Rev. Abraham’s father also has a street named after him in North Charleston — “Abraham Avenue,” which was named in honor of his father’s devoted leadership to his community.
The Rev. Abraham has received other honors throughout his lifetime. In 1992, he was a member of the Board of Directors for St. Joseph’s Home for Boys. In 1995, he received the Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Award. In 2005, he received the NAACP Humanitarian Award and was grand marshal in that year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. He was also on the Board of Directors for the American Red Cross in 2005. And he has pastored both Mount Pisgah AME Church in Portal and Jerusalem AME Church in Brooklet. Where did he find the time?
Today, you can find the Rev. Abraham either sitting on his porch reading a book or at Wal-Mart enjoying a cup of coffee at McDonald’s with a few acquaintances, namely Mr. Gene Washington and Mr. Washington, conversing about life and the goodness of God. Each Sunday, he visits nursing homes in Statesboro. He is still walking around. If you get close, you might hear him humming “All Is Well With My Soul,” which he used to hum as he stood in the halls of William James High, or “Amazing Grace,” his all-time favorite song.
Loving, firm, consistent. Everyone will agree that these three words describe the Rev. Abraham perfectly. And always ready to share words of wisdom, as he tells his children, “It does not matter in life how you fall down. What matters is how you get up!”
Keep walking, the Rev. Abraham, because there are so many of us desiring to follow in your footsteps. Thanks for blazing the trail!
Dr. Enola G. Mosley is an English teacher at Statesboro High School.