"I finished college and had the degree, but for a black person in those days, opportunities in that field weren't out there like they are now.
"I don't know if drama and acting had anything to do with my calling to the ministry, but it certainly didn't hurt, me having the skills to be a speaker.
"The best job I could get was as a fireman with the Charleston Fire Department. I was there for three years. I did everything, even drove the fire truck, and we had some dangerous experiences.
"One day, we were testing a fire hose on Kanawha Avenue in Kanawha City and a gentleman named Dayton Jones from the Post Office was walking up Kanawha Avenue. I worked Christmases at the Post Office because mail was so heavy and they always hired extra help. I did that for two or three years. Dayton Jones recognized me and said to come see him at the Post Office.
"I went the next week, and he hired me. I went from letter carrier to parcel postman, driving the truck delivering parcels. When John Kennedy became president, things opened up for black people, and I became a supervisor as a route examiner.
"Christmas was so busy that we didn't really get to do much celebrating until after Christmas. But we didn't mind. That's when we made the big money with the overtime. We would work clear up to the last minute.
"I felt the call to the ministry after I retired and decided to go to school. There was a way where you could work and go to school in the summer for six weeks. I went to Bennett College in North Carolina for my seminary training and was ordained an elder in the church.
"I was in my early 30s then. My first church was a small church on Coal Branch Heights. Then I went to Wheeling and served two churches, a large Anglo congregation and a small black congregation. I was fortunate because the Anglo congregation loved me. It was an endowed church. I had some rich years there.
"Even today, I love to preach. We had great services at Christmas, celebrating Christ coming into the world to save us. It's a special time.
"Today, the commercial wizards have taken Christ out of Christmas. They've got to make that buck. People lose sight of why we celebrate Christmas. That bothers me.
"We will have Christmas here. My family is coming to me. I've got four daughters and nine grandkids. We'll go to Simpson Church for services early on Christmas Eve.
"I came back here in retirement. After a year or two, I was asked to go to Bluefield to a United Methodist congregation. I served five years there and retired again, so they call me a double dipper.
"Then I was superintendent of the Charleston district with 77 churches under my jurisdiction. The bishop appoints you. Now I'm just a retired clergyperson.
"Social activism has always been a part of me. I grew up in that 14-block ghetto, and it has been a part of my calling to make life better for my fellow citizens. That's what drove me.
"Remember Rock Lake Pool? We organized a march on Rock Lake Pool. It wasn't that we wanted to swim. I can't even swim. We chose that as a symbol to try to break down the barrier of segregation in public facilities.
"We organized an affiliate of Dr. Martin Luther King's organization, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC. We organized a chapter here and chose Rock Lake as the place where we would publicly demonstrate.
"We asked Dr. King to come and lead the march. He couldn't come, but he sent his lieutenant, C.T. Vivian, and we had a huge march from Charleston to Rock Lake Pool.
"We had a black gentleman on City Council who was very strong and assertive, Dr. Virgil Matthews, a Ph.D. He fought the fight in City Council to open public accommodations that were segregated. He led that fight, and we were successful in getting an ordinance passed. That was our greatest victory. We were always indebted to Dr. Matthews.
"I'm 90 years old, so I have seen a lot of change. Things are worlds better than they were back in the '60s. There is always room for improvement. Worrisome now is the incarceration of black males and this whole drug culture thing.
"I feel blessed. I've had such rich experiences all my life. I have tried to help a lot of people. I have no regrets. I've done about everything I set out to do, and I'm just living a relaxed life now."
Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.