When I was a boy of 6 or so, growing up in Atl with my aunt in our meager house across from the old Tiger Flower mansion, I would daily practice Bach, Beethoven, or make up my own songs on our piano in the living room. Once a week, the city garbage truck would arrive, and two garbage men, their dark black skin, sweating and glistening under the summer sun, would walk past the window near the piano, laughing and joking, but focused on retrieving our garbage cans from the back yard. Their muscular chests framed by and straining against their taut white tank topundershirts blazed in the GA sun. They sang and joked as they’ve retrieved the cans, and returned them to our back yard. I remember how meticulous they were. I admired that. They never dropped trash along the way. I wish I was as happy and skillful as they were. At some point after one of their visits, I said to my aunt, “when I grow up, I want to be a garbage man.” I was so pleased (and slightly surprised) when she said, “That’s good. I’m proud of you. Whatever you decide to be, just make sure you’re the best you can be.”
A week later, I wanted to be something else when I grew up, a fireman or doctor, but for the rest of my life, her initial response became my leitmotif: “just be the best you can be.”
Oglethorpe Elementary School, Atlanta, 1958. I am 3rd row from the top, on left, next to Mrs. James, our gray-haired music teacher, am I. in grade 6.
I give thanks for the roots of my Ison Family Tree. My mother, Katie Sue Ison, is standing, the third woman from the right. My grandparents, James Ison and Mary Harrison, are seated. Their parents (my great grandparents) Martha and Henry Ison/Catherine and Lewis Harrison, are not pictured here.
Some of my ancestors. My maternal grandparents (James Ison and Mary Harrison are seated left and center). The photo was taken at 374 Henry Street, Atlanta, GA, circa 1935.
Cousins Emerson Whatley and Walter “Skippy Peanut Butter” Dallas. That must be the George Washington Carver beach somewhere in GA.
This is a photo of my father. He died many years ago. Do you know about our American “Father’s Day” in Nigeria?
ARCHIVIST, HISTORIAN, and ARTiST
Dale Shields is a professor of theatre, director, and actor (Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and Regional).
The 2017 winner of The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award®, 2017 and 2015 Tony® award nominee for the Excellence in Theatre Education Award, and the winner of the 2017 AUDELCO/"VIV" Special Achievement Award. On the web, he is the archivist and historian of Iforcolor.org and Black Theatre/African American Voices [Facebook] (theatre, music, and art). He has taught classes and workshops at Susquehanna University, Denison University, Randolph-Macon College, Macalester College, The College of Wooster, Ohio University, Wayne State University, and the Joseph Papp Public Theatre (New York Shakespeare Festival).
B.F.A. and M.F.A. degree from Ohio University.