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Celebrating Black History

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Remembering a family man who meant business

By Taylor Riley

A profile of George William Blades on his 90th birthday in July 2006 describes him as a beloved father, a great dancer and devoted husband to his childhood sweetheart. To his family, this was who Blades was until he died in 2010.

To most in Eminence, though, Blades was a successful entrepreneur–unlikely at the time when Civil Rights was just an idea.

This is the story of Blades, another black business owner we are spotlighting in the month of February, Black History Month.

Humble beginnings

George Blades was the fifth child of nine, born on July 9, 1916 as Joseph Junior Blades in Eminence. His mother Maude died at childbirth during the last of her and Joe Blades’ children.

Blades was young when he went to visit his sister, Mary Alice, in Louisville for a weekend visit and “never came back,” according to his grandson Vance Blade (Blade took the ‘s’ off his last name), who gave the Local an extensive view into his father’s life. At 15, though, George did come back to live with his father in Eminence.

It was then that he fell in love with the girl next door, Mamie Wayne.

Not everyone was excited about the new love affair. George’s best friend, William Mason, had big plans for the friends. They were going to build an airplane and fly it at Bowman Field.

“We were making good progress and here comes Mamie,” William Mason once told Vance Blade.

Mamie and George were married in 1931 and had their first child in 1932. The couple eventually had five daughters.

Hard worker

George and Mamie were struggling financially for a long time, according to Vance Blade, but when his grandfather got a job at Fischer’s Packing in Louisville, they were hopeful.

“It was more money than they had ever seen,” Vance Blade said. “They stayed up counting the money over and over.”

Around that time, George befriended a guy who repaired their washer and dryer. George caught the repair bug and built a shed in the back of their home for his side gig that would turn into a business venture.

Vance was 9-years-old, living with his single mother, when he would help with his grandfather’s business.

“He started building a business,” Vance Blade said. “I was there from the inception.”

Vance and his brother, Vincent, became their grandfather’s partners in the business. In the summer, they repaired appliances, cut grass and played basketball.

Building a business

At that time, the Blade’s grandfather was making relationships with white business owners in Eminence, like Bob Jackson at Jackson’s Furniture and Jim Petty at Quality Furniture.

“The two white guys treated him like he was their hip brother,” Vance said, during the height of unrest between white and black groups. “They saw someone they could trust, who was intelligent and could do anything.”

From May to August, Vance and Vincent would install window air conditioners with their grandfather, who became ill.

“He trained us so well, we kept running the business,” Vance said.

Vance went off to college and his younger brothers, Victor and Vaughn took over the business for their ailing grandfather.

When Vance came home from Berea College, he checked his grandfather’s invoices from unpaid jobs and Vance reminded him he had to be paid.

“His buisness wasn’t all about the money,” Vance said. “He built a successful business with a Christian flare. He helped people and repaired things.”

Devoted Christian

George wasn’t just a businessman, he was also a devoted Christian, who was one of the largest donors at Eminence Baptist Church, where he was a deacon and Sunday School instructor.

“He could talk to anyone and talk about God,” Vance said.

And if anything went wrong, George said, “Praise the Lord everything is going to be all right.”

George didn’t let race relations during the Civil Rights Movement get him down either.

Vance described a story when he was young that stuck with him. It was during a repair visit to a white home that a child used a racial slur when referring to Vance’s grandfather.

George responded with positivity, saying that it was not the child who should be at fault but the parents.

“That has defined who I am,” Vance said. “Never stoop as low as the stoop.”

George Blades was the Master of the Masonic Lodge, Grand Noble of the Odd Fellow Lodge, Honorary Kentucky Colonel, Chairman of the Housing Authority of Eminence and Member of the Fraternal Order of Chiefs.

He died on April 20, 2010.