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Hyde Park’s Iconic Shoe Repair Owner turns 95

Posted by Admin On May - 16 - 2014

By Chinta Strausberg

Hyde Park’s iconic shoe shop repair owner, Taylor W. Lucy, the brother of Autherine Lucy who in 1952 desegregated the University of Alabama, celebrated his 95th birthday at the Mr T’s Shoe Service, 1007 E. 53rd Street, where friends and family gathered in the tiny shop to share greetings while taking a trip down memory lane.

A stream of customers came to wish Lucy, fondly called “Mr. T,” happy birthday people like Florence Cox, former Chicago Public School board president now president of the WE CAN, INC. Committee, who called him “a beacon of hope” forthe community.

Coxsaid Lucy “has been a beacon of hope for the community and black people in general. He has always been good to the kids and has always been good to the neighborhood. I think he stands out as one who we should follow, respect and

hold up as high as we can in the community because he has done much for himself and even more for the community.”

Lucy ,who will actually turn 95 this Tuesday, May 13th, doesn’t work at his shop anymore since he had an accident in October of 2012, but he comes back to check on his business now operated by those he has trained like his daughter, Marla Lawrence, a former Chicago Public School teacher turn social worker, her husband, Errol Lawrence, a retired associate dean of the University of Notre Dame, and workers he taught the art of shoe repair.

Lucy named his shop Mr. T and laughed when he recalled the real Mr. T, the actor, came to his shop asking him why he was using his name. “He came here and said,‘What you doing with my name?’ I told him, “What you doing with my name”? The two laughed and Mr. T told Lucy, “You’re OK.”

Born in Shiloah, Alabama on a farm owned by his parents, Milton and Minnie-Hosey Lucy, Mr. Lucy was born sixth of ten children during the days of segregation. He vividly remembers for the “For Colored” and “whites only” signs posted at drinking fountains and even on toilet doors. “I was born in an era where you had a fountain here that said black and another that said white…and if you went in there, you got arrested for being off limits. I got used to it but got away from it as soon as I could.”

The days of racism remain etched in Mr. Lucy’s mind. Referring to his baby sister,Autherine, now a retired teacher, he recalled how she first integrated the University of Alabama. “That was kind of dangerous because at that time you were not safe when you want to break up something other races weren’t accustom to. They didn’t like mixing the races.

“She attended class for three-days but after that they assumed it to be too dangerous to provide class safety for her. After those three days she was expelled,” Mr. Lucy said. “She made some statements about some faculty members…that they didn’t to the best they could to provide safety and security for her and because she couldn’t prove it, she got expelled.

“I was glad for her to get out of there because it was a dangerous situation. It was wrong, but I supported every step she made,” he said.

To get away from the raw racism, when he was 13 he moved 135 miles away from his home and lived with a cousin in Fairfield, Alabama where he enrolled in schooland graduated. “When I got in ninth grade, I was elected president of the class,” he recalled. Racism was not as bad in Fairfield.

While racism in Fairfield, Alabama, he said, “was a little bit better, but you have to understand and know how you respect people. You speak to them and what you don’t have to say, you don’t say. You know what other people don’t like to hear…. I learned to describe things instead of saying things…like you were supposed to say ‘yes ma’am and no ma’am….'”

He said sometimes he would forget to say‘yes ma’am and no ma’am,’ and whites would “turn beet red. My dad would get nervous…. Instead of saying yes, he used descriptions for answers.

When asked what was it like being an African American in the Deep South at that time, Mr. Lucy said, “It was something you knew that wasn’t suppose to be. You are a human being and are suppose to have the rights others have and we didn’t have that because of our color….”

While in high school, Lucy learned the art of shoe repair. “I took the trade. When I finished that trade at the end of the year, I received all three (1st,2nd and 3rd) best shoemaker prizes because no other person qualified.”

Lucy gave credit to his principal, E.J. Oliver, an African American who also got black history taught in his school. Lucy said learning his history helped himto better understand who he was and from where he came.

Before he came to Chicago in 1944, Mr. Lucy was drafted into the Army. Once here, he moved with his sister at 5911 South Indiana. He was assigned to Fort Sheridan and later was sent overseas including in European Theater of World War II going to countries like England, France, Belgium and Luxembourg. He was discharged from the Army in 1946…an Army he said was still segregated. There were no blacks in commanding positions.

Three-years later, Lucy married Susie Myrick and together they had seven children, six boys and four girls. His daughters worked at his shop, and some of his sons learned the shoe repair trade. Later, Lucy and his wife divorced.

He then married Mildred Harris and they had four children. His wife passed in 2004. Since then, Lucy said, “I’ve just been floating from to another” including dating his long-time friend, Jackie Payton. “We just love each other,” Lucy said glancing at Payton with a huge smile.

When Lucy came home from the service, he started a business at 55 East Garfield across the street from the Butternut Bread building. While working at his shoe repair business, he enrolled in a VA educational program under the GI bill. He took courses in radio, television and engineering and graduated in 1949.

“I got rid of the shop and brought a livery cab, but then I got me a job as a shoemaker at B&B on the North Side across the street from Dr. Shores Shoes.I stayed there for 15-years.”

While there, Lucy was elected president of the United Shoemakers of America. He held that position for 15-years. There, Lucy said, “I got some white folks fired because of how they treated black folks…. I always got my facts together”including a white man who had unfairly fired several blacks. When Lucy found out why, the white man was fired and the company had to rehire the blacks with back pay. “I was happy about being successful….”

Having learned to do shoe repair on the equipment, the company was supposed to pay him average wages. However, when the owner went to New York on sales business, Lucy left because he made more money doing piecework vs. working on the machines. He quit.

The next day, he went to Zenith at 1900 North Austin, and was hired as an electrical engineer. He stayed there for seven-years. While at Zenith, in 1971 he bought a shoe shop at 1374 E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with it.” Lucy said five-minutes after he bought the shop a man tried to buy his business. He didn’t sell and he ultimately quit Zenith.

Having lost his lease, he moved to 47th Street for a year and then bought his current shop in 1989. Mr. Lucy is very opinionated on a myriad of social issues.

Asked his reaction to the gun violence that is going on primarily in the black community, Mr. Lucy said, “It is very disappointing because it doesn’t seem like anybody can do anything about it. That is what makes it so bad…. I think Chicago should be an occupied city, occupied with troops. I think that would help.”

Lucy said it’s time for the Army, the state troopers to occupy Chicago but warned they can’t be racists. “You need somebody in there who has a little respect for what is best for people. You have to learn how to respect one another. You got to believe in something good, you can do better. Just think about people who don’t believe in anything…. Everybody’s looses….”

Lucy is very concerned about Republicans turning back the civil rights clock. Referring to last June’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights bill, Mr. Lucy said, “That was against us. It was a blow that knocked us out of the box. Every time you turn around, you see a state talking about taking the rights from voters…all over North and South….”

And on the controversial concealed and carry law, Mr. Lucy referred to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal who signed the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014 that goes into effect on July 1. It allows people who have concealed carry permits to bring their weapons into churches, airports, school zones, bars and government buildings. Mr. Lucy just shook his head in disbelief.

“Everybody is afraid of doing right. When you’re a politician, you have to see which way the wind is blowing” before making a decision.

On President Obama, Lucy said he wished he could have talked to Vice President Joe Biden on the gay rights issue. “There is no way you can put gay over marriage…. This country was founded on religious principles, why deviate”? He blames politics for the changes that are being made in today’s society. Lucy said he respects all people “what ever they represent.”

Lucy is disturbed about the money spent on charter schools while public schools are suffering. “You have people running charter schools and they are running away with the money. You can’t win, but it doesn’t keep you from trying.”


“People are not dumb anymore. They observe, but you got to keep the message out there,” he said referring to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner. “He can out spend you and out talk you, too.”

Asked about the election of President Obama, Mr. Lucy said, “I’ve been pulling for him before he was born. I was hoping someone would come along and when he came along I argued with my baby sister, Autherine. She was voting with Miss Clinton. I said I am voting for Obama and she said, ‘Is it because he’s black’? I said, yes, because he’s black and he qualified.”  Mr. Lucy said his sister didn’t switch opting instead to vote for Clinton. “I told her she’s entitled to that vote. I told her she voted for a good girl.

“But, President Obama selected two more terms for a Democrat. If Hillary wants to run, she can do two terms. I will vote for her because there is nobody else qualified…. I know that and the Republicans know that, too. They know they don’t have anybody that will rate up there with her, and the Democrats don’t have anyone else either.”

But, besides Hillary Clinton, Mr. Lucy said Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Ann Warren is another potential presidential candidate. “She’s on her way up. She’s qualified. You got to watch her…. She’s a banker and the banking people are afraid of her.”

A number of old customers began to stream into his shop like Arthur Slater, a retired Chief of Schools for the CPS, who knew Mr. Lucy for decades including when he had a store on 47th Street. “I think he is great. I don’t take my shoes to the shop anymore because I have not found anyone good enough to replace him. I will buy a new pair first. I had excellent service with him…my entire family….”

A former teacher turn social worker, Lawrence said her dad “means everything to me. He taught me what it means to be good, kind and human and I hope that I embody all of those things. He’s the best guy that I know. I have been honored to work in his business. I am a helper. It’s been a privilege….”

His daughter said their customers view her father as their dad. Her husband, Errol Lawrence, feels the same way and together they are helping to carry on her father’s shoe repair business for yet another generation.

Paula Harris, a customer for 18-years, said Mr. Lucy “is a testament to hard work and entrepreneurial ship…. He is more than just my shoe repairman. He’s like a grandfather to me…. I hope I can live to be at least 95 and helped people like he helped me out.”

Sitting next to Lucy was his special friend of 30-years, Jackie Payton, who said when Lucy works he whistles. “That’s when he is deep in thought,” she said laughing.

Looking around at his old customers, Lucy smiled saying, “I get the best of everything…friends…family by divine intervention.” Mr. T got up, stood and walked outside of his historic shop to pose for pictures.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.

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