Uncle Bill Black
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Try To Remember...

Uncle Bill---Wiliam Wilson Black (1920 - 2001)---son of Sherman (1888 - 1936) and Ellen Whitehead Black (1885-1964), twin brother of Uncle Robert (Bob) Sherman Black (1920 - 1975), husband (1946) of Aunt Juanita Black (1923 - 2012), father of William (Billy) Grant Black (1947 - 2002) and Julie Black Rolak (1952 - 2015).


Remembering my father...by his only daughter, Julie Black Rolak


William Wilson Black entered this world on a hot and muggy summer night in the small town of Craddock, Virginia. Born at home in the 10:00 hour on the 26th of July, 1920, he was the second of twin boys born to Sherman Butler Black and Ellen Sue Whitehead.  Bill’s birth marked the last of six sons born to Ellen. Her first four sons were from her previous marriage to Michael Downey.

Times were good when the twins were born, but that was to be short-lived. Having been born just a few years before the Great Depression, the boys grew up during an era when steady employment was increasingly hard to find. The Black family moved to Chicago in 1922. When he was old enough, Bill helped to supplement the family income by doing any odd jobs he could find. Many times he was paid not with money, but with fruits and vegetables to help feed the family. Despite the increasingly hard times of the 1920’s, visits from both Whitehead and Black family members helped to create fond memories for Bill’s early years in Chicago. Sunday picnics in the park were commonplace in nice weather and singing songs of the day around the piano took place year ‘round. Bill’s character trait of looking for and finding some good in the midst of bad situations and seeking the favorable side of most people was formed in his childhood and that would stay with him for the remainder of his life.


Life took a dramatic turn for the Black family in late 1933 as soon as Sherman netted a tidy sum from a single job which was found for him by Ellen’s brother, Robert Whitehead. After many lean years in Chicago, Sherman convinced Ellen that he could better provide for his family if they returned to his home state of Arkansas. Debts were paid off. In February 1934 Sherman, Ellen, and thirteen year old twins Bob and Bill moved to the town of Norfork, Arkansas. Hopes were high for finding employment in the construction of the Norfork Bridge. They rented a house in town, grew a wonderful garden, and purchased fifty acres in a rural mountain setting. As time and money permitted, Sherman and the twins cleared the land and began building a log cabin. City born and raised, Ellen soon tired of the rural southern life and returned to Chicago alone. Sherman and the boys moved in to the cabin despite the fact that it was far from finished. They ate off the land, foraged the forests, and hunted game. Not comprehending that his family was indeed poor, Bill felt that he was living in Eden.

It was in Norfork that Bill learned to play the guitar and sing both folk and popular songs of the day. That pastime would stay with him for the rest of his life. It was also the time in his life that he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior. His three years spent in Arkansas were by far the most influential years of his childhood.

As content as Bill was living in Norfork, life was still hard. All three took on any work they could find. Mother Nature withheld her rain in the summer of 1936. Both the garden and creek dried up. Unaware that the trickling creek water had become dangerous, Bob and Bill both contracted typhoid fever in September. Townswomen nursed the fevered boys when Sherman found temporary work on the Norfork Bridge. Caring for the boys himself during the night, a sleep deprived Sherman fell over a roped off unfinished area of the floor which was designated to be a root cellar. Though he only fell three feet, his broken ribs punctured his lungs and a kidney. Sherman was somehow transported to the VA Hospital in Fayetteville, where he died on October 16.

Ellen quickly returned to Arkansas with son Gerald Downey. With the help of townswomen she continued to nurse her boys to restored health. Bill’s case of typhoid was much worse than Bob’s, and it would be another six weeks before he even learned of his father’s death. In the spring the remaining furniture and other possessions were sold at public auction. With $125 from the sale Ellen paid her debts and returned to Chicago in Gerald’s 1932 Chevrolet coupe, this time with her boys, and this time, for good.

The War Years

The family pooled all resources to survive through the rest of the Great Depression. Bill job hopped until he finally secured a position with AT&T, where, with the exception of time served in WWII and the Korean Conflict, he would remain with AT&T until his retirement day. 

Bob was already serving in the Marines on Pearl Harbor Day. He was stationed in the Pacific and taken prisoner by the Japanese in Corregidor. Bill was inducted into the Army in May of 1942. Having been accepted into Officer Candidate School, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant on June 9th, 1943.  He volunteered for overseas duty.  Missing the D Day invasion by a little over a week, he and his troops landed at Grand Campe on the 14th of June, 1944. Safer than most but always close enough feel the peril, Bill’s cryptographic radio-telephone team remained about four miles behind lines in order to protect the American codes and ciphers from the German army.  He wondered daily how his twin was fairing in the Pacific arena. When the war ended in 1945, Bill returned to Chicago for a joyful homecoming and reunion with his family, and especially, with Bob.


Gerald, now married, held a BBQ in his brothers’ honor. At the party Bill met a dark haired beauty by the name of Juanita Reinhold. They were married in Russellville, Arkansas on March 31, 1946. In a double wedding ceremony, Bob also married Jackie Arnold, an acquaintance from their Norfork days.

Bill and Juanie set up housekeeping in the Beverly section of Chicago’s south side. William Grant was born on September 19, 1947. He worked until 1951 when, during the Korean Conflict, he was reactivated in the military and transferred to the Air Force. Stationed at Sculthorpe Air Force Base in England, Juanie and Billy joined him. In December of 1952 daughter Julie was born, and the family was complete. Later returning to the states and his position at AT&T, Bill spent the balance of his career in data communications, supervising the sale of telephones that allowed business machines to communicate with each other, including computers.  He referred to it as a fascinating new field. 

In addition to steadily climbing the ladder at AT&T, Bill remained in the Air National Guard and was active in both his church and the American Legion. He had a loving family and a good marriage. Although the majority of his holidays were spent with the Reinhold side of the family, he did stay in touch with his brothers, uncles, and cousins. Many years he took a week in October to return to Arkansas. Family vacations were nearly always to Juanie’s aunt’s cabin resort in northern Minnesota for a week of fishing by day and campfires by night. Occasional trips to Florida were also made to visit Gerald, another brother Phay Downey, and other Whitehead cousins, all of whom had relocated there. Wherever Bill went, his guitar and notebook of song lyrics were sure to be with him.

Ellen’s health declined during those years, as she suffered from high blood pressure and a failed cataract surgery. When she could no longer remain living alone, she moved in with Ervin and his family in Oak Lawn, Illinois. She died in her bedroom in Erv’s home in February 1964. Bill sang his mother’s favorite song, “The Old Rugged Cross,” as he said his final good-bye to her.

The year 1977 was another pivotal year for Bill and Juanie. By planning well for their financial future, they were able to retire early and buy a home in Hot Springs, Arkansas. That also marked the year they became grandparents, when Julie and her husband Rick had daughter Katie. One year later Billy’s wife also gave birth to a daughter, who they named Gina. They were fortunate to have both Billy and Julie, their spouses and granddaughters follow them to Hot Springs a few years later.

Bill marked his retirement years by working, as a rural postal carrier, serving on church committees, singing in the choir, leading a Sunday school class for senior citizens, and volunteering in a church based thrift store. He spent all of the 1980’s researching his family history and finished his writing in 1992. A bout with cancer slowed him down in 1994, but he lived to attend both of his granddaughter’s weddings. Bill remained actively visiting nursing home patients until the day of his surgery for an aneurysm in January 2001. His health failed after that and he died in his son Bill’s home on April 2, 2001, at the age of 80.

In his journals he wrote “I did not accomplish very much in life, due mostly to a lack of formal education.”  Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Like George Bailey in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he’d have felt far different if he could have seen what this world would have been like for many people without William Wilson “Bill” Black to touch them.             

...Julie Black Rolak, January, 2005

Advent Devotional...written by Julie's father, Bill Black, and published by his Church in anticipation of Christmas, 2000. It would be his last Christmas on earth.

Light of Man

In him was life, and the light of man.    John 1:4

To me the key words in this verse are life and light.  We have all seen comic strips where someone is searching for something, and upon finding it, the next cartoon segment shows a light bulb turning on.

In 1942 I had just enlisted in the army for World War II.  Six years before, at age 16, I had turned my life over to the Lord. However, at times I felt difficulties in deciding what was right and what was wrong on some questions that had two obvious possible answers. My brother, Reverend E. Phay Downey, a Presbyterian minister, solved my problem. I asked him how I would know if I made the right choice for the two possible decisions. He told me to always choose the decision that I thought Jesus would have made and I would be right the majority of the time.

You know what? It works! Yes, I made a few wrong decisions but many, many more right ones, when the Lord turned the light bulb on in my mind.

...Bill Black, December 2000

Don't hear anything ? Try playing this media player while viewing slides...
Ray Price singing Uncle Bill's favorite hymn,  "The Old Rugged Cross"

Life is like a train ride.  We get on.  We ride for awhile.  And then we get off.  Come ride with me by POINTING TO & CLICKING ON on the small photo you see here:--->   <---slide show produced by Uncle Bill Black's now 80-year old nephew, Bruce            May, 2009

Uncle Bill--- William Wilson Black (1920 - 2001)--- son of Sherman (1888 - 1936) and Ellen Whitehead Black (1885-1964), twin brother of Uncle Robert (Bob) Sherman Black (1920 - 1975), husband (1946) of Aunt Juanita Black (1923 - 2012), father of William (Billy) Grant Black (1947 - 2002) and Julie Black Rolak (1952 - 2015).