The Life of Johnnie Baptis Bailey [JB]: Just an Ordinary Christian?

The Life of Johnnie Baptis Bailey [JB]: Just an Ordinary Christian?

Grandson of a slave, born in Southern Georgia in 1923, Johnnie Baptis Bailey  [JB, nee Brown] was adopted as a young boy by the Bailey family. He had no more than a 3rd grade education. Until the age of 19, JB worked as a farm hand for one Jack French, owner of a 100 acre farm. He was responsible for planting and cultivating principal crops of corn, cotton, peanuts and vegetables. He used all types of animal drawn farm equipment and made minor repairs to general farm equipment, machinery, fences and surrounding buildings. Further, he assisted in loading and unloading wagon supplies of crops, feed and fertilizer. We’re not finished. JB was a strong youth who tended to livestock, poultry and hogs. He had a reputation as a hard and conscientious worker. Probably about 5’ 11” and 180 lbs. but not sure. Would’ve been a great football player in today’s world. However, he was an avid baseball fan [Yankees] and player with the boys himself. Not surprisingly, his home town of Buena Vista claimed famous Negro League baseball all star Josh Gibson as its local hero. Throughout it all, JB had a fancy for a young Temmy Slaughter, also of Buena Vista.  

As with millions of other young Americans, WWII also interrupted the life of JB. The U. S. Army drafted JB and was quickly put to use for the war effort as a duty soldier and heavy truck driver. For nearly 3 years JB drove truck for the 4134th Quartermaster Service Company in Naples, Italy, Southern France and the Rhineland. Specifically, he hauled gasoline, rations, clothing, tools, and personnel. African American draftees were also known to be assigned in retrieving soldiers killed in battle. Quite the responsibility, both physically and emotionally draining. Driving a 2 1/2 ton GMC and semi trailer truck, he hauled heavy equipment and vehicles. JB drove both day and night in all kinds of roads and terrain under all weather conditions. Along with driving, he maintained the trucks with minor repairs such as changing oil and tires, lubrication, fan belts and water hoses. 

This young man ultimately was the recipient of a WWII Victory Medal, the European/African/Middle-East Service Medal with 4 Bronze Stars. And an Asiatic/Pacific Service Medal. Such are the statements on his honorable discharge papers.

What happens to an African American patriot such as JB upon separation from the military? Well of course in reality, Buena Vista, Georgia, a deep south rural town of about 2000 in population, was not a community offering the greatest in career opportunities for a young Black man. It was a small rural community, Southern Baptist and white family dominated. So, JB married his young sweetheart Temmy Slaughter in 1946; she was 15 and after their first four children move to Miami, Florida in 1953 – urban land of opportunity. Opportunity arrived in the form of a laborer and trucker position at a sawdust mill in Liberty City, the infamous Black ghetto of Miami. He worked there for 53 more years until his death in 2007. JB and Temmy were married for 61 years. 

Throughout the years following his family’s migration to Miami, JB and Temmy had a total of 8 children. Two preceded him in death, his first two children, Stanley and Eva. He continued working and providing for his wife and children and the Bailey family was regarded highly in their small segregated neighborhood. Miami had remained a typical southern city, prejudice and segregation being the predominant characteristic confronting African Americans.  

It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that Miami began to open up. Neighborhood children flocked to the Bailey home as a refuge for peace and support in an increasingly troubled community. Pillars for all. We would joke about JB, the old southern gentlemen, that he was in such good health for his age. 80 years old and didn’t need glasses. No, didn’t need glasses, he drank straight out of his pocket flask; but not really that frequently. Never saw him intoxicated, just an old southern habit. Was offered some Georgia moonshine at times however, and it was just like I thought, awful!  

Most friendly toward his white Italian American son-in-law; it was a shock to him that such a marriage would occur to one of his children considering his background. But he took it in stride. Supportive all the way and in many ways. JB, not much of a Southern Baptist church goer but a rock for his family and community nonetheless. All his children are hard working with married families of their own. Success breeds success. In all, the descriptive words of strong work ethic, loyalty, protective and strength of character come to mind, just like the silent generation. Mild tempered and soft spoken, he is missed by us all and many a JB story told often in fond memory. That to me is not ordinary but an extraordinary Christian man and life.  


Baglino, Michael J. You Only Live Thrice: Semi Biographical Articles and Vignettes on Religion and Culture. New York: Writers. 2022.

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Written by
Michael Baglino