When you reminisce over Walton County’s local black history, the story of Boyd ‘Buddy’ Conyers, his wife Louelle, and their son Wendell of Monroe is one that often comes up. You will find it featured prominently in the Monroe Museum. Theirs is mostly a local story of success. But also of loss and it became of national significance when in 1906 an incident in Brownsville, Texas, hit the headlines.
Monroe Museum historian Steve Brown tells the story of Buddy and Louelle Conyers, describing them of one of Monroe’s “best known and respected couples,” with Buddy a local business owner and Louelle one of Monroe’s most sought-after caterers.
The loss came when the Conyers’ son, Wendell, was killed while on guard duty in Korea on June 23, 1948. He had joined the Army Engineers in 1946 after completing one year of college. Brown said flags were flown at half-mast on Aug. 10 of that year when Wendell’s body was returned home for burial. He is buried at Zion Hill Cemetery currently being restored by Friends of Zion Hill Cemetery Monroe, Georgia.
“There is irony in the fact that Wendell would join the army after what his father, Buddy, had gone through while serving in 1906,” Brown said. That was when Buddy’s story had gone national. “He’d been an innocent soldier when he was pulled into the controversy surrounding the ‘Brownsville Raid.’ His family had moved here when he was four years old and he joined the Army really to get an education.”
Brown goes on to describe the Brownsville incident and Buddy’s involvement in the whole controversy.
“His troop of black soldiers was stationed in Brownsville where there were no black citizens or none to speak of. It was right on the border and was half Mexican and half white. The citizens of the town staged an event where someone died and over 200 rounds were fired. They tried to blame it on those black soldiers,” Brown said. “Well, all the soldiers were in the bed asleep and all their weapons were locked up. Buddy was called as a witness because he was on guard duty. He was in the guard quarters asleep and he knew nothing about it until it was over with. President Roosevelt threw that entire troop of soldiers out of the Army. They were not dishonorably discharged, but they were discharged without honor, which means they wouldn’t receive their retirement and there were some of them close to retirement.
“The Congress turned against the president on this. It was the wrong thing to do, but he stuck with it. He sent investigators to Monroe and they deposed Buddy. They met in the Sheriff’s office and Buddy just kept telling them, ‘I don’t know anything.’ But when the investigators left, they made up a confession from Buddy and turned that in to President Roosevelt. When it came out, the sheriff here in Monroe and the citizens of Monroe, both black and white, came out and said this was a lie. The sheriff in fact said, ‘This is the biggest lie I’ve ever seen anybody put their name on.’
“Buddy had to go to Washington on his own dollar and testify before Congress and he stayed up there. His wife was expecting their first child and she was not in good health – it was not going well. He didn’t have the money to go to Washington and stay up there all that time and not be working, but he did,” Brown said. “Then he came back and nothing happened until 1970 when this book came out with Buddy’s picture on the front of it. And when it did, the story resurfaced and the Senate went back and pardoned all of them. But by that time hardly any of them were still alive.”
After the publication in 1970 of John D. Weaver’s book, The Brownsville Raid, arguing the innocence of the soldiers, the Army conducted a new investigation and, in 1972, reversed the order of 1906. Sadly, Buddy was not alive when that happened, having passed away in 1966.
According to a story published in 1977 and found in the archives of the New York Times, when the order was reversed, the Army called the original punishment a “gross injustice.” Dorsie Willis, then 87, was the sole survivor of the dishonored men and was awarded an honorable discharge and a tax‐free Government check for $25,000. Buddy’s daughter, Bettye Conyers Hardeman, told The NY Times at that time that an Army captain had came around and given her mother a check for $10,000, an American flag and a military marker for her father’s grave. There was no apology for the impact the incident had caused on the lives of the soldiers.
But Brown said that was another thing that made Buddy so special. He did not let it hold him back.
“It never had an affect on his life that you could tell. He had his own business. He polished shoes and he repaired shoes. He had a shop at his house on North Broad Street and he also worked in J. C. Ash’s Barber Shop,” Brown said. “His wife, Louelle, was the best caterer in Monroe. They went on with their lives. Buddy had an orchestra. He was just an unbelievable individual. He’d go to New York to the World Series. He was a fantastic Dodgers fan and he’d go to watch the Dodgers if they made it to the World Series. He called himself the Old Timer and would run ads in the Tribune where he’d say ‘It’s getting close to Easter – you need to bring your shoes to the Old Timer.’ He dyed shoes, women’s shoes, to match their dresses and things like that. It is just an unbelievable story.”
You will find information on Buddy and Louelle Conyers in an exhibit at the Monroe Museum. At the moment the museum remains closed due to the pandemic, but you can follow the progress and find more of these stories on the Facebook page at Monroe Museum.
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