Greenville resident John T. Black didn’t set out to become an author after his retirement from a long banking career. However, through a series of serendipitous events, he has now written two books on Greenville-area history and has started a third that would represent his most ambitious to date.
At first glance, banking and writing seem to have little in common, but Black, 81, says his banking career stood him in good stead when he sat down to write his books.
“Throughout my banking years, I was often asked to write down ideas and new concepts in a way that was concise and got the message across clearly,” Black said. “I guess it gave me a good background — to write in a way that people understood what I was trying to say.”
It has been an interesting journey for Black, who is not even a Greenville native and, just like writing, did not choose banking as his career — it chose him.
Black grew up in the Oxford area, and attended Taylor High School. From a modest family that included two brothers, Black said it didn’t look like he was going to be able to attend college when he was approached about a position with First National Bank in Oxford.
“I interviewed and got the job,” Black remembered. “I graduated on a Friday, and was at work the next Monday.”
Then, international events intervened. The year was 1953, and the Korean War was raging. So, Black enlisted in the Navy, looking to take advantage of the G.I. Bill to further his education.
Concluding his service, Black returned to Oxford where he earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi as a part-time student in 1960 while working full-time as a banker. (He would also graduate from the School of Banking at LSU.)
His banking career subsequently would lead him to Greenville, and Black would go on to rise up through the ranks at two different banks, relocating several times before returning to Greenville and eventually retiring from the industry as senior vice president of Sunburst Bank, which is now Regions Bank. (After retiring, Black earned his brokers license in 1995, and operated as an independent broker in Greenville through 2003.)
By this time, Black had become known for articles he wrote for local publications, including the daily newspaper The Delta Democrat-Times. During his first stint in Greenville, Black wrote a piece for a local magazine on area pioneers in 1966 titled “They Built the Delta.” The following year, he wrote a piece on Greenville history for the DDT to commemorate the 40th anniversary of The Great Flood of 1927.
Upon returning to Greenville, he again picked up his pen, writing a series of articles that appeared in the DDT on the history of Greenville-area banking and another one on early local residents.
However, it was yet another serendipitous event that led to his first history book.
“I was in my car and stopped at the intersection of Hinds and Main streets,” Black said. “I looked over, saw St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and First Baptist Church, and it just hit me.”
Black wrote a series of articles for the DDT on the history of Greenville’s churches, and would take those pieces and turn them into chapters of his first book, “Faith of Our Fathers: How Faith Has Influenced the History of Greenville, Mississippi.” Self-published in 2005, Black would donate the proceeds of the 30-chapter, 172-page book to support the library at First Baptist Church of Greenville.
With “Faith of Our Fathers” on his résumé, Black was approached about doing a book on the Levee Board. Released in 2006 and also self-published, “A History of the Mississippi Levee Board: From Greenville Bends to the Yazoo River” encompassed 120 pages, plus a photo gallery, and chronicled the Board’s history in chapters with titles such as “A Touch of Scandal” and “Battle Over the Ultimate Solution.”
Now Black, who is also known locally for his woodworking skills (he calls it “piddling”), is back at it, working on what promises to be his most laborious book yet — a history of the towboat industry and its impact on the region in the world seen through the “prism of Greenville, Mississippi,” he said. He has already spent two years researching the topic, and estimates it will take perhaps another two years to complete.
But, that’s okay by Black.
“I’m having so much fun,” Black said. “It’s the discovery — finding out something you didn’t know. I still don’t consider myself a writer, but I am enjoying what I am doing.”
BEFORE YOU GO…
… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.
If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.Click for more info