Midway Black History
February is Black History Month and I will be featuring a Midway Black History article each week of this month in The Woodford Sun.
The honor of being one of the most interesting men that ever lived in Midway would have to go to Mr. Harry Clay Anderson. He was referred to by many as “Blind Harry.” In today’s politically correct time many would consider calling anyone by such a name a travesty. However, Midway historian, Margaret Ware Parrish, explains, “Blind Harry”- that sobriquet is in no way demeaning - in fact, quite the contrary. The adults in town all respected and admired him and the young ones were in awe of him - how could a sightless person manage to get around so well and accomplish so much?”(This quote was taken from Ms. Parrish’s book If These Walls Could Talk - July 1998.
Harry Anderson was a black man that lost his sight at a very young age working as a stone mason when a dynamite explosion went off nearby and he lost his eyesight. Not to be deterred he developed a mindset that, “There’s always a way if you try.” Being without sight did not stop Anderson from living a fruitful life.
Anderson once took first prize in a “Believe It or Not” contest conducted by the Lexington Herald. The unusual accomplishments of this blind man went on to be reviewed by Robert Ripley, who added Anderson’s name for consideration for publication in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. (I was unable to find any other information about this other than he was once considered for inclusion.)
Harry lived in Midway with his wife Ada, where he built one house without aid and built another with the help of his father-in-law. He was interviewed several times during his life and the thing that he was most proud of was the fact that he never received or asked for “relief” while many others more fortunate were receiving public aid. “I don’t expect they would put me on relief if I asked for it,” he said. “Just because I kept on trying after I became blind, worked every day and got a home, some people think I’m rich.”
He worked every day and that means every day seven days a week and he had more than one job. He was the janitor at the Midway Christian Church 24 years and at the Commercial Bank approximately 25 years. He fired the furnace at the church until an automatic stoker was installed and then he learned how to operate the stoker. He does the cleaning and even the dusting at the church. How he knows he has removed all the dust was more or less of a mystery, but it was reported that he did a good job.
Serving as janitor at two places doesn’t take all his time. He also maintained a vegetable garden every year without help. He was the garbage collector for a number of homes in Midway. Then in his spare time, he made improvements at his home, made furniture, and did other jobs.
There are several more stories about Harry Clay Anderson but this article has to end somewhere. However, I really do have to throw this one in the mix. Sam Fisher Sr. was working on his house just outside of town with his son, Joe Fisher Jr. Mr. Anderson came around to chat while they were working. Anderson ran his hand along the bottom half of a window frame that the Fisher’s had just put in and commented, “Mr. Sam, the bottom of your window frame here is about a quarter inch lower on one side than the other.” Sam Sr. told Joe Jr. to get the tape and check it out. Joe measured the bottom of the window frame and sure enough there was a quarter of an inch difference from one side to the other.
Some of the older Midwegians grew up hearing about “Blind Harry,” There are some Midway residents that are alive today that knew him.
I was fortunate enough to have met him. My dad made sure that I met him and had the chance to talk to him on several occasions. Mr. Harry Anderson died Jan. 1, 1965.
I doubt that many of the new arrivals to Midway ever heard of Mr. Harry Clay Anderson aka “Blind Harry.” Today, Mr. Anderson’s story seems to be taking on a second life. When people enter one of Midway’s newest restaurants next to the Brown Barrel they are entering “Blind Harry’s,” named after one of the most interesting people that ever lived in Midway. Patrons are always asking about how the business got its name. The story of “Blind Harry” lives on. You can even see the two houses that Anderson built from the Brown Barrel and Blind Harry’s parking lot.
I’m not sure if Mr. Anderson ever drank but that shouldn’t stop visitors from toasting Mr. Harry Clay Anderson and having a drink in his memory. Maybe they should name a drink after him too.