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Posted: February 17, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Sug's store

Gaither was one of the first black men in County to own a store

Lee Sandow/

Dorothy Smith has some old pictures of her grandfather that she has treasured over the years. The first shows Charlie "Sug" Gaither in his middle years. The second shows his daughter and his eight grandchildren.

There was once a third picture, which has been lost to the ravages of time. The picture is an old store, located near Macedonia Baptist Church, on what is now called Henderson Mill Road.

The store, long closed, but still standing today, was a general goods store that catered generally to the church crowd. Gaither owned that store more than 60 years ago, back in the times when segregation was still the norm, and black people owning and managing a store frequented by white people was nearly unheard of. According to records, Gaither was one of the first black people in Newton County to own and operate a store.

The photos are in black and white — color photography was still a relatively new invention in those days — and they capture the mood of the time perfectly.

Back in those days, the affairs of Newton County were largely seen in terms of black and white.

The rise of a businessman

The Macedonia Community sprang up off Covington Highway 4, which is now known as Henderson Mill Road, in the late 1800s. The largely black community

who had moved from Jasper County in the late 1800s, and they founded Macedonia Baptist Church as their place of worship

Gaither grew up in the Macedonia Community. He married his wife, Maude, and the two had a single daughter, Annie Kate Gaither. Annie was married to Wesley Smith on the porch of Macedonia Baptist Church, and they had eight children, who all lived close to Charlie at his farm near the church. His grandchildren all called Charlie "Sug."

At the farm, Charlie raised all sorts of animals. Smith remembers his having cattle, hogs, goats and chickens and said that the family loved them all. Smith fondly remembers her grandfather's most distinguished animal that he kept — several magnificent peacocks.

"(The peackocks) were so fondly loved, especially when they would spread their tails. I remember the beautiful sight," Smith said. "This was indeed an experience, because no one else had these animals."

Smith also grew crops on the farm and had a helper who lived nearby, whom Smith remembers calling J.D.

But it was his work at the community store that Smith says most people remember him for.

The small store

There weren't many cars in the Macedonia Community back when the store first opened. The other nearby stores were located several miles up the road in Covington, and going to shop there would be a full day’s trip. Smith says the store was invaluable for being nearby, and was frequented by people on foot, particularly after the church crowds came on Sundays.

The store drew black people and white people alike, and Gaither served everybody. He would also open the store after hours if called to. All anyone had to do was go to his farm, and Gaither would walk to the store and sell them whatever if was they needed.

The store carried all the general goods the community needed. Basic food supplies like meat, bread and cheese were kept in stock, as well as many other often-needed goods.

There were also pleasure items kept in the store. Smith remembers an entire rainbow of snuff and chewing tobacco cans. He also sold sodas to his customers for five cents — Nehi Orange and RC Cola were the drinks of the day. He also sold Coca-Cola, but that was strictly reserved for the white customers.

The store also had candies — Haystacks, peppermints and Babe Ruth Bars. Smith said it was not at all uncommon for children to come with their pennies to buy themselves treats.

Gaither was said to have eyes in the back of his head. Nobody ever snuck something out of his store without paying. Smith said that even the grandchildren paid for what they had, though he would occasionally give them a treat.

A large part of the store's success was Gaither's jovial personality, and his trustworthiness that earned him respect from members of the black and the white community.

The heart of the man

Gaither was man large in stature, but even larger in personality, Smith said. She fondly remembers her grandfather's endless patience, and his love for the community.

"He never complained, even though he may have not had more than a few pennies to spend," Smith said. "I think a lot of love for the kids and the community kept the store operating."

Gaither was an honest man of his word. If asked if something was true, he'd often reply "hope God may kill me." He was described as being comical with a good sense of humor, which he treated his family and customers to.

Smith ran the store until he died. He was buried beside Maude in the cemetery at Gaither’s Chapel Methodist Church. But his legacy has not been forgotten by those who knew him.

"I remember his life being an inspiration to us," Smith said. "We knew it could be done because we saw our grandfather do it."

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