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Willie Garrett, Another Giant Succumbs

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San Bernardino

By Cheryl Brown


Willie Garrett was full of life. He was a stalwart member of the community. He firmly believed in the adage "it takes a village" and he practiced it on 20th Street in San Bernardino, CA. For most of his 46 years in the city he lived in the same house.

Instead of moving out of the community he invested in it and remodeled his house. He stayed because he lived in a tightknit community and with his neighbors, Mr. Joseph Jacquet and Lucias Hill, patrolled their corner of San Bernardino’s westside.

Willie B, as many called him, succumbed to cancer on February 28, at home. He was in the care of his loving family and hospice.
Garrett was the 11th of 12 children (6 boys and 6 girls) born to Mr. Quick and Florida Brooks Garrett in St. Augustine, TX.

Upon graduation from St Augustine Colored High School he attended H.M. Morgan Barber College in Tyler, Texas. He moved to San Francisco and furthered his education and training at Marinella’s Beauty College. He joined the Merchant Marine’s serving from 1950-51 and was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952. In 1957 he moved to San Bernardino, CA.

As a Licensed Barber he was a very proud business owner, and also loved his community. He was very active in politics due to the problems his customers would bring to him. Sometimes it would be necessary for him to leave his shop.

"He used to cut my hair and he was a great barber, but he was so involved in civic affairs that he may have you sit in the chair, take a swipe at your hair and leave, only to leave you there until he came back to finish," said Wilbur Brown with a chuckle.

His political involvement was so great that every election day he’d put his bullhorn on his van and go throughout the neighborhoods first on the Westside and then when the community changed he would go out to other areas and pull people out to vote.

"He'd call them out by name while driving down the street. Did you vote? He made you feel guilty about not voting," said Connie, his wife of many years.

Carl Clemons agreed, “he’d drive up and down the street at election time and call you out if you hadn’t gone to vote, but I was mostly on the opposite side of the fence with Garrett. We had many heated debates," he said.

"I respected him for his positions, he had the community at heart. During the Watts Riots when the Mayor (of San Bernardino) was putting guns on the fire trucks it was Garrett who went to talk to the kids to make them behave and not get caught up in the disturbance. It took someone like him for us to advance. He challenged the system, if he felt it wasn’t right. It takes all methods," said Clemons.

As a political activist Garrett worked on many campaigns, from Robert Kennedy for President to more recently Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betty Anderson.

He helped to found the Westside Democratic Club, APRI, Kutania People, Community Development Corporation, and the Westside Action Group.

After his years in the barbering and political business Garrett developed the idea of the Westside Drop-in Center and for 13 years it became the center of the community.

The center housed a post office, utility center, food bank, job education training, and health screening by the Public Health Department. It was the heart of the community for social and religious activities.

One of his proudest successes was the recruitment of 13 police officers. As happy as he was that they went to the academy and successfully graduated from the training, he was disappointed to find only one was hired locally.

He continued to fight discrimination as president of the NAACP not only in 1964-1966 but also again in 1968-1970. And when he passed away President Walter Jarman had recently re-appointed him chair of the Political Action Committee serving out more than a 10 year term.

"He personally recruited me to run for the presidency and Jarman to be the Treasurer of the S.B. NAACP. He had civic pride by active engagement,” said Hardy Brown, Black Voice News publisher and 41-year friend.

Jarman, also one of his church members said, "he is the reason for my involvement in the NAACP. He had a way when faced with a challenge he would always offer encouragement and support by stating, ‘you can do it,’" said Jarman.

In 1987 he developed bladder cancer, in 1991 he developed prostate cancer and in 2001 lung cancer. His life began to change when he joined New Hope Baptist Church in 1996. He was still passionate about his community but his conversation and actions were to educate people about their health.

Every year he held a major Prostate Awareness Day at his church. "You have to make your husband get his prostate checked, he would tell anyone listening,” said his wife Connie.

One of his four children remembered him fondly. Pat Scott of Dallas, Texas said, "When we were small, he’d come to Texas but as we grew older and he married Connie we spent time visiting him in California.

"He wanted the family to be close. He felt it was important for the grandchildren to know each other so he arranged for all of them to spend some time with him. Thank goodness for Connie, she was involved with 4-H Camp through her job and she took them with her everyday," said Scott.

His son Shelly is writer and producer of the national hit stageplay “Barbershop.” He developed his material from his dad’s barbershop.

Funeral service will be held at New Hope on Friday, March 8. The wake will be held Thursday, March 7 at Simpson’s Mortuary.
Left to cherish his memory is,

wife: Connie;

daughters: Bertha Hilburn of Sugarland, TX, Patricia Scott, Arlington, TX;

sons: Shelly Garrett, of Irving, TX and Craig Garrett of Long Beach;

sisters: Erma Jean Stafford, San Bernardino, Ruth Stewart, Longview, TX, Freddie Bivins San Francisco;

brothers: Earnest Garrett, Leonard Garrett;

sister-in-laws; Carol Traylor, Los Angeles and Cynthia Traylor, Pasadena, CA;

brother –in-law: Allan Traylor, Pasadena, CA;

seven grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a host of nephews, cousins and other relatives and friends.

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