William Curtis Hayes, Jr., Mayor
Mayor Curtis Hayes poses in front of Livingston City Hall with Durell Melton. The first job Curtis had was helping to haul in hay for Durell during the summer months. He was around 11 years old when he started working for Durell.
|How likely would
a young man who's only 31 years old be elected to serve as mayor of a
small town in Tennessee, who also happens to be of African American
descent, and the black population in his hometown is only 60 out of 4,000?
Most would say not likely at all. But those who might feel it would not be
likely to happen probably aren't very well acquainted with William Curtis
Hayes, Jr.. It just so happens that when all the votes for the office of
Mayor of the Town of Livingston were tallied on June 7, 2006, with four
candidates running for that office, the total votes cast came to 1,455. Of
that amount, 776 votes were for William Curtis Hayes, Jr., a first for the
town of Livingston. History was made that day in June, not just for the
Town of Livingston, but for Overton County as well. Curtis Hayes is the
first African American to hold office in Livingston and Overton County.
But that isn't the only thing we could say is a first for Curtis Hayes.
Years before he ever even considered getting involved in local politics,
Curtis became the first black person to be employed as a full-time police
officer with the Livingston Police Department. He later became the first
full-time black deputy with the Overton County Sheriff's office.
Curtis Hayes was born on July 9, 1974, to William Curtis Hayes, Sr. and Christine Copeland Hayes. The first years of Curtis' life, he and his mother lived in what he referred to as the "double decker" housing project on Preston Street in Livingston. The Hayes family later grew to include a daughter, Crystal, and another son, Michael. When Curtis was around the age of 7 or 8 years old, his family moved in with Hettie Ann Copeland, his grandmother, who lived on Spring Street. Mrs. Copeland worked at Lady Ann Hospital, and Curtis’ mother was employed at the local shirt factory. It was while they were still living on Preston Street that Gerald and Betty Collins stopped by the Hayes' home to extend an invitation to attend church services at Grace Baptist Church in Alpine. At that time, this church also had a private school. Curtis and Crystal enrolled and attended school at Grace Baptist for one year, and might have continued on if not for an invitation to play football that was extended to Curtis one summer day. On that particular occasion, he and a couple of his friends were riding their bikes on Zachary Street. As they rode by what is now the location of the Board of Education building that was originally the site of the Livingston Academy football field, Terry Melton, Bobby Gore, and David Peterman were working to clear off an area to be used as a practice field for grade school football teams. Curtis and friends were stopped by Terry Melton and asked if they would like to play football. Curtis immediately replied that yes, he did want to play, but what he didn't say was that going home to tell his mother he needed to change schools was not going to be easy. And even though his mother did not like the idea at all of her son playing football, she did reluctantly agreed to his request. Thus began a love of sports that carries on with Curtis even today.
Curtis Hayes is shown here around the age of 3 years old.
|To be an
effective Mayor and one that really cares about doing a good job, being a
hard worker is definitely a requirement, something that Curtis is no
stranger to. His working career started at the tender age of 11 or 12
years old when he was asked by Durell Melton of Monroe if he wanted to
help haul in hay. Curtis happened to be at Robert McDonald's garage on
Church Street the day Durell stopped by looking for help. He worked for
several summers with Durell, helping too with odd jobs around the Melton
dairy barn. The pay was $5.00 an hour and included lunch at Pennington's
Grocery. Other individuals he worked for during the summer months hauling
hay included Terry Melton, James and Estelene Cobble, and Geraldine Dubree.
At the young age of 16, Curtis was hired to manage city park. After
graduation from high school, followed by a year at Roane State, Curtis
became a member of the Livingston Police Department. His working career
has also included part-time work as a contract painter with Tennessee
Tech, a laborer for a short time with W & O Construction, deputy with the
Overton County Sheriff's office, employee of Eagle Medical, and a painter
with Tennessee Tech, this second time with benefits. He also began his own
business, Hayes Painting, on the side.
In the year 2000, he ran for city councilman and was elected, and then in 2002, undertook running the first time for Mayor, but was defeated by only 96 votes. During his working career, he also found time to coach baseball, basketball, and Outlaw football for grade school boys. Every season at least 100 kids were members of the various teams he coached. No young person who wanted to play was ever turned away.
Of great importance in Curtis' growing up years were the parents of his close friends that he gives a lot of credit to for helping shape his life. Next to his mother, he considers Dicky and Liz Mitchell, Mike and Joyce Swallows, Robert and Brenda McDonald, to have played a very important role in helping him become the person he is today. He remains very close to the sons of each of these couples, Clark Mitchell, Matt Swallows, and Greg McDonald. During the years these boys were in school together, they somehow became known as "The Crew." They continue today to stay in close contact with each other, and from time to time, set aside times just to get together.
Probably pretty close to another first for a small town like Livingston was the fact that when Curtis got married, it was not to an African American. He and Julie Hill, daughter of Jerry and Linda Hill of Livingston, became husband and wife during the time Curtis served as a city policeman. Darris Sims performed their wedding ceremony at the Martin Street apartments. In spite of having what might be considered a marriage some would not approve of, Curtis and Julie have dealt very well with that situation, and as a result, have two very handsome sons, Creed, age 12, and Carter, age 8. Both boys are the pride and joy of not only their parents, but especially of their grandmother Christine and their grandparents Jerry and Linda.
Recently the Overton County Historical Society honored Curtis during Black History Month with an award for becoming the first black mayor of the Town of Livingston. In connection with that award, Ronald Dishman prepared a list of ancestors of Curtis that go back six generations. Some very interesting information is contained in that list and includes an obituary from the Livingston Enterprise dated September 13, 1935. The obituary is for a great-great-great grandmother of Curtis whose name was Vestine Capps Copeland. The headlines of her obituary read:
"Last Surviving Ex-slave of Overton County dies at her home here"
"Vestine Capps Copeland, colored, age 92 years, died at her home in North Livingston on Wednesday, September 11, 1935, at 6:00 a.m., after a lingering illness attributed to advanced age. She was the widow of the late Robert Copeland and is the last one of the surviving slaves of Overton County to pass away. She was born in Livingston, being the daughter of Emily Capps who was for many years a slave of Doak H. Capps, a pioneer merchant of Livingston, and she herself remained with the Capps family until some years after the War Between the States. She had been a member of the church for more than sixty years and was highly respected by the white people as well as by her own race. Surviving are six children as follows: Myrtie Williams and Alvin Copeland of Livingston; Della Copeland of Cooekville; John Copeland, Addie Copeland Armstrong and Edna Boulton of Detroit, Michigan; one half-sister, Eller Maynord of Livingston; and one half-brother, Alvin Cullom of Colorado Springs, Colorado; and a number of grandchildren. Funeral services were held from the residence on Thursday, at 2:30 p.m., by Rev. Lena Maynord, colored, of the Church of God, with burial at the Cash Cemetery."
Since becoming Mayor, we can add another to Curtis' list of things he's been number one at ... for the first time in the history of the Livingston's Mayor's office, a computer now sits on top of the Mayor's desk. From a history that includes a great-grandparent who was recognized when she died as the last of Livingston's ex-slaves, to becoming a first in many ways in the history of the town he grew up in, William Curtis Hayes, Jr. is certainly to be commended for his accomplishments at such a young age. Congratulations Mayor Hayes for the good job you're doing, and especially for making the history books of the Town of Livingston and Overton County as well. Mrs. Christine Hayes should also be commended as well for the raising of a very fine son.