The News and Observer Remembers Shaw Alumnus Hubert Poole
2003 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO
March 13, 2012 - All saluted Hubert Poole when they passed his flag-draped coffin, either with their right hands or with the words you keep for a quiet hero.
Here lay a man of 86 who grew up in Raleigh's segregated Oberlin community, selling vegetables door-to-door to bring his family extra money.
Here lay one of the nation's first black Marines, a man who held no bitterness in his heart even though he wasn't allowed to fight at Guadalcanal or Guam in World War II, only load ammunition, and who returned to Raleigh in uniform to be sent to the back doors of restaurants.
Here lay a social studies teacher who started in segregated schools and finished in integrated ones; a football coach who didn't need to tell kids 50 years his junior how tough he was; and an adviser to Democrats from City Council to the state Senate - a man Charles Meeker said played a key role in his winning five terms as Raleigh mayor.
"He understood why he needed to fight for his country, and why it needed to be fair for everyone," said Bob Etheridge, the former congressman now running for governor, speaking at Shaw University on Wednesday night. "And he kept up that fight in a quiet way."
Poole's name isn't chiseled on a monument anywhere. He doesn't have a building named for him, or even a street. But anybody who met him stood up a little straighter.
He never planned on the military. He was drafted and picked the Marines because it seemed special - an adventure. He couldn't tell if the training was tougher because he was black, or if it was just plain Semper Fi tough. But Poole endured training at an all-black Montford Point next to Camp Lejeune, as well as staying on ship while his white comrades fought.
"It taught me you're not going to have things the way you want them all the time," he told The News & Observer in 2003. "You have to improvise, do hard thinking and pray."
Poole attended Shaw University on the GI Bill, playing center on the team that won the 1947 CIAA football championship and graduating with a history degree.
As a young graduate, he worked for Raleigh parks and recreation, supervising both Pullen and Chavis parks. At Shaw on Wednesday, former U.S. Air Force officer and educator Joseph Holt remembered being a young boy and seeing Poole chalk the baselines around the neighborhood field in Oberlin. Suddenly, it wasn't a ragged sandlot anymore, but a real diamond. Then he told Holt to umpire the next game.
"Sir?" Holt asked.
"You know how to call balls and strikes, don't you, Joe? That's all you've got to do. Just don't lose count."
Holt hemmed and hawed, unsure of himself. Players stood around watching.
"Start the game, Joe," Poole told him. "You have to say, 'Play ball.'"
A few years later, in 1959, Holt saw Poole again - this time in his first year teaching at Ligon Junior-Senior High School.
Holt was a senior and expected to cruise through, pulling capers. Poole reminded him that he needed a social studies credit to graduate, and he wasn't handing any out.
"We were acting like children," Holt said, "and he told us that just like the rooster who thought the sun rose on account of his crowing, we were going to flunk his class."
Before he retired, Poole taught at Martin Middle and Millbrook High schools, guiding thousands of students. State Sen. Dan Blue remembered Poole showing up to his son's football games at Enloe High School, calling him "Little Blue," and commanding the respect of the whole team, without saying much, even in his 70s.
Respected by leaders
By then, he was also working as an assistant sergeant-at-arms in the N.C. Senate, where he sometimes called former Sen. Marc Basnight his "best friend."
"He was highly respected by highly cantankerous legislators who might have not have deserved the same respect," Blue told the crowd of 200 at Shaw. "They would tell him secrets they wouldn't tell anybody else."
Mayor Charles Meeker said he doubts he would have been elected without Poole, whom he never met until 2001, during his tough race to unseat then-Mayor Paul Coble, a conservative Republican.
The Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, centered in Southeast Raleigh, wanted to endorse Coble. "Hubert wasn't having any of that," Meeker said. "Hubert didn't have any idea who I was, but he knew I was a Democrat."
He pushed the RWCA into a tie vote, and the group didn't endorse anyone that year. Then Poole single-handedly worked Southeast Raleigh precincts, which went to Meeker, helping him win a close race.
"I wouldn't have made it," said Meeker, tied for Raleigh's longest-serving mayor. "That's the bottom line."
Poole was buried Thursday in Oakwood Cemetery alongside governors and generals, his life perhaps less heralded, but no less storied.
Originally written by Josh Shaffer and published on March 12, 2012 in the News and Observer.