Every time we turn down Hencart Road in Glennville to attend Calvary Baptist Church, we see the bright green sign that reads: Tom Shine Memorial Road. I often wondered who he was and why the road was named for Tom Shine.
In the March 24 edition of The Tattnall Journal — thanks to Reuben King Sr., who dictated the story — I found the answer. I called Mr. King and asked him if I could use his story for a column in the Coastal Courier. He graciously agreed.
Tom Robinson was born in Riceboro on June 22, 1895. Even though little is known of his childhood, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an adult and served as a private in World War I. After serving his country, Tom returned to the Riceboro area looking for work. Jobs were very scarce at this time and he was unable to find employment.
One day, John Dasher, a farmer in Liberty County, drove his two-horse wagon to Riceboro to find some men to pick his crop of cotton. Tom saw an opportunity to work, so he and eight or 10 other men accepted the farmer’s offer of employment. Having found his workers, Dasher returned to his farm in Lydia, a small community in Liberty County, where he had a tenant house for them to stay in. Since the cotton season was almost over, Tom picked cotton for only about two weeks.
One late afternoon, after picking cotton all day, the workers decided to spend some time playing a game of cards. Tom, who was winning most of the money, excused himself from the game and left the room. After some time passed and Tom did not return, the others began to worry about him.
They went to Dasher’s house and asked if Tom was there. They told him that while they were playing cards, Tom had excused himself to go to the woods or the outhouse but had not returned. They thought he may have been bitten by a snake since he had been gone so long.
No, Tom had not been snakebitten, nor did he get lost. He simply took his winnings and headed to Glennville to find more work.
Leaving the cotton fields of Liberty County behind him, he found a job at Nixon’s Barbershop in front of the Glennville Bank. It was Tom’s job to shine shoes and clean the shop.
While working at Nixon’s for a few years, he soon earned the name “Tom Shine” because he really could shine shoes and his customers enjoyed him. After leaving his job at the barbershop, he married Gaybell Walker, and to this union they had one son named George.
Tom moved his family out onto a rural road on the edge of Glennville, which is known today as Hencart Road. He decided to create a job for himself, so he bought a hay barn from Dubberly’s farm. He remodeled the barn and added on to it, producing several businesses. From that one building, he was able to create a restaurant, beauty shop, barbershop, liquor store and dance hall. This establishment was called the Blue Goose.
Dr. Elmer Branch, a local medical doctor, built four houses in front of the barn and turned them over to Tom to rent out to people.
Later, Tom began to buy property of his own. He built a house with a car porch with four night houses in the back. The night houses were for tourists traveling through Glennville who were in need of a place to stay overnight.
He also owned several rental properties on Jackson Street and a farm in Long County. He was a steward at St. James AME Church as well.
Then Tom went into the funeral business. He was given a railroad depot building by John Bradley. He told Tom if he wanted it that he would have to move it.
So, Tom moved the building to what now is Cherry Street. It became the first black funeral home in Glennville. He operated the funeral home until he died July 12, 1951, at the age of 56. Tom Robinson, better known as Tom Shine, was laid to rest in the Robert Chapel Cemetery, as was his wife a few years later.
Tom Shine was the first African American to move into Ward I, now listed as the Blue Goose Subdivision, which he started. Recently, a street that runs from Highway 23 to Highway 301 was named in his honor.
After Tom’s passing, the funeral home was sold a few times but still remains in business today, which now is where King and Sons Funeral Home is located.
Tom Shine’s legacy of entrepreneurship continues today, and his vision for productivity will last. Thanks, “Tom Shine!”