This is an installment in an occasional series on Chicago’s West Side.
A cold, soft late-autumn rain falls upon the long procession of cars led by a police escort and a white limousine.
Rain. Like the rain J.W. Scott used to catch as a boy in buckets as it poured through the tin roof of his family’s shotgun shack in Rosedale, Mississippi. Rain — afflicting and also healing. Rain, falling like memories, cold rain.
The line of cars snakes through the streets of west suburban Bellwood in a warm salute to a beloved son now in his golden years, which reflect a treasured past that still shines here and beyond, bearing witness of hope and of all things being possible.
On St. Charles Road at 30th Avenue, a white street sign in bold navy blue letters bears homage to J.W. Scott. It reads simply: “HONORARY J.W. SCOTT AVE.”
The street sign is the village’s signature on the effort to inscribe permanently onto its fabric the memory of an honored U.S. Army veteran awarded the Bronze Star for service during the Korean War, successful entrepreneur, husband, father of eight, friend.
The man who founded People’s Cab Company in Bellwood. A man called the epitome of humility, an uncomplicated man of faith who loves God and who built a life beyond a plantation where he was born in an unforgiving Jim Crow South.
Scott, 86, is seated in the limousine as the procession winds toward a ceremonial dinner for family and friends and those he has touched by a life well lived. To honor this success story, nurtured in hard work and hope on Chicago’s West Side, like so many others — often without fanfare and defying life beyond the edges of the American mainstream to achieve the American dream.
The procession itself reflects the measure of Scott’s journey.
“Back in those days, a family worked for nothing,” Scott says, reflecting on his childhood in Mississippi, where his family chopped and picked cotton for virtually no wages. “A dollar a day was a lot of money…”
“The plantation owner would let you stay in one of his run-down houses,” Scott recalls. “There was no clothes closet in the house and you didn’t need closets because the most clothes you had were on your back…”
Etched in his memory is his family’s shotgun shack. There were no lights, no gas, no television, no paved roads, no indoor bathroom, only an outhouse.
Still, it was enough.
Apples, oranges, grapes and candy at Christmas, walnuts and a paper pistol. And by Scott’s estimation, always plenty of work. He decided as a young child that once he got big, he would get him a job. And he would work and save and build and dream.
And he did. Working at Campbell Soup Company for 35 years, he drove a taxi on weekends, starting People’s Cab in 1982 when he retired, according to his son David Scott, 56.
His dad “worked hard and hustled all his life to get to where he is,” Scott says.
And yet, it was not work alone, I suspect, but something in the soil and in the souls of black folks that growing up on the West Side I once saw in abundance. Something that could restore the tired soul that life had beaten breathless.
“We were happy, and we loved one another and we always had time to talk to each other,” J.W. Scott says. “And if one had food, it was shared with the other… If one killed hogs, everybody had meat…”
That was the West Side way. The West Side I once knew. And it is the embodiment of J.W. Scott.
That’s as clear as the falling rain.
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