Wynita and Buster Johnson - Blessed Assurance
(Clinton, KY September 17, 2022) Howard Dillard spent a lot of time on our front porch, swapping stories with his high school classmate, Ivan, and catching up on doings around town. He would stop his car in front of the house if he saw one of us on the porch, put it park right there and come up for a sit down. A few times, I wondered if wife Frances wasn't worrying about his being gone so long. He always assured me all was well and he had time for a visit.
Howard was the longest serving city councilman in Clinton. As city attorney, I sat behind his chair at council meetings. Every meeting, he would greet me cordially and show me his socks (more on that later) and ask how "Mr. Ivan is doing?" He was a faithful servant for his constituents and an active member of Green Valley Missionary Baptist Church. He invited us to visit his church and to the August Homecoming of the community in Columbus. He was our friend and for me a teacher of what it was like to be Black in the South in our youth.
We worked together to put together a Black History Month programs. One February at the Hickman County Historical & Genealogical Society, he told stories of going to school in Hickman (Fulton County's county seat), riding a rickety bus with a coal stove beside the driver. Those in the front seats stayed warm. Those in the back didn't. Howard told of being shown a back door into the doctor's office and into the courthouse. Decades later, it burned his soul but he managed to keep smiling through it all.
Green Valley hosted a lecture by Murray State Professor Brian Clardy, who spoke on racial conditions in the Purchase in early years. The testimony after the talk by church members took some of the White audience by surprise. They truly didn't know how different their classmates and families lives were from their bucolic days of the Fifties. It wasn't all sock hops and basketball games.
Howard was drafted and served in Vietnam. He didn't talk much about combat, but it felt like he saw it. Training in the Deep South was an experience geared to be humbling for a Black soldier in the Sixties. Traveling to basic, Black soldiers stayed on the train with shades drawn during stops. White soldiers got off to get something to eat and stretch their legs.
When Howard died suddenly of a heart attack on September 7th, it was a shock. Ivan had just talked to him that day. Yes, he had heart issues as many men in their seventies, but he never complained.
We went to Howard's visitation at the First Assembly of God Church. Green Valley just wasn't large enough to hold all who came to pay their respects. I stayed on for the funeral with my camera, taking some photos (at the request of the family) for our Hickman County Times newspaper.
Howard Dillard's funeral was a glorious celebration of a man who mentored younger men, who was loved by his family, church and the Masons he participated in for years. Howard taught and coached basketball and he used the sport to reach out to youngsters to steer them.
His daughter Wynita sang Blessed Assurance with her brother, Howard, Jr. at her back harmonizing. Others sang songs that brought applause. Friends and pastors who knew him praised his good heart.
As a final tribute, Howard's wife Frances asked that funny socks be worn to the funeral. At the end of the service, those who did showed them off.
Howard was buried in the veteran's cemetery in Illinois. His body is there, but his spirit and his smile stay with those who knew him.