Connie Shumake King’s admiration of her brother Carlis Louis Shumake Jr. goes beyond simple family affiliation. She calls him “Superman.”
Her Superman rose from the cotton and tobacco fields of Millen, without formal high school training, to become a successful long-term employee, businessman and, eventually, patented inventor.
Shumake, who died this summer at age 65, and six siblings grew up on a tenant farm in Millen. Children of tenant farmers during that time often attended school sporadically, with crop schedules taking first priority.
“My brother was forced to drop out of school to work in a cotton field,” King said. “We all cried, but not Junior. He may have been sad and disappointed, but he didn’t cry in front of us. He worked from sun up to sun down, coming in at night dusty, dirty, sweaty and dehydrated from the scorching sun, after plowing or working those tobacco fields. I never saw him cry, and I never heard him complain.”
Many years later as an adult and father, Shumake moved to Atlanta at the encouragement of another sister and sought employment, pursuing a GED diploma because he didn’t graduate from high school.
Shumake worked two part time jobs, odd jobs he could find and secured a job with the Atlanta Gas Light Company, one of the first African-Americans hired by the company. His son would eventually join him in his fresh start in Atlanta.
Raising a son on his own, Shumake decided to buy his first new home.
Atlanta Gas Light sent him to many classes to learn additional information for the company.
“He had many challenges in his classes. Remember, he didn’t finish high school,” King pointed out.
His sister would sometimes help him study.
“He would say, ‘I want this job so bad; can you help me get this math right?’” she said. “I really didn’t know just how smart he was.”
But pass his tests he did, and he remained on the job for more than 30 years.
“He loved his job; he loved the company,” said King. “He knew all there was to know about gas and would talk about it passionately until your eyes glazed over.”
Though he retired from that job, Shumake’s work wasn’t done. He successfully patented an automatic leak shutoff device in 2001.
With language that most cannot comprehend, Patent No. 6253785 describes his invention as this: “A water supply shutoff valve system is used with a fluid storage tank, such as a hot water heater, to automatically shut off the water supply to the storage tank as a result of leak containment which in turn causes a magnetic float to rise and consequently produce the mechanical force necessary to release and close a spring-loaded water supply valve.”
Even then, Shumake wasn’t done. He started and successfully operated his own business, Shumake Quality Service, and contracted with gas companies in and around Powder Springs, Georgia, for several years.
Always in awe of her brother’s accomplishments, King was not surprised to find out that others felt the same way about him.
“In the funeral home guestbook,” King said, “one of Junior’s co-workers wrote: ‘I, too, had the pleasure of working with Carlis at AGL in Marietta. I called him ‘Superman’ because he could do anything! He was a good friend and will be missed.’”
King went on to say, “Webster defines a hero as a man of distinguished courage or ability. Superman fits this definition, as he possesses courage and superhuman abilities and can break through any wall. My brother possessed distinguished courage and ability and broke through many walls.
“Now,” she continued, “you might say, ‘What makes my brother and Superman different?’ Well, Superman was an imaginary character. He only existed in his creator’s mind. My brother, Junior, was real, human, flesh and bones. He hugged; he kissed; he loved. And he was a great man.”