Brownwood News – February is Black History Month. Brownwoodnews.com will run a series of articles this month about some of the early Black leaders in Brown County. This is the third in the series.
Of all the leaders in the Black community in Brown County’s history, arguably none is more beloved than Cecil Holman. Leading by example, he lived a life of honest work, humility, grace, and humor. Indeed, he was considered by many to be the unofficial alternate Mayor of Brownwood.
Cecil Holman was born in Coleman, Texas on February 5, 1911. He attended school there through the eighth grade. “Coleman didn’t offer any more classes and my momma wanted me to go to high school,” Holman explained. So he mounted a donkey and rode it to Brownwood to continue his education. He was fourteen years old, and had $1.08 in his pocket.
His first order of business was to find a job. He finally talked a Mr. Ernest Lovelace into hiring him as a shoe shiner. “When he finally agreed to give me the job I promised to stay with him until he quit — and I just about did.” Holman saw the shoe shine job as an opportunity to get to know many people in his new town, make friends with them, and let them get to know him. His approach served him well.
After graduating from high school Holman found a job in a furniture store. “I must have been good help, because they started me off at $4.00 a week,” which was pretty good money in those days. Not long after he also began working at a funeral home. Oh, and he still was still shining shoes, so he was juggling three jobs at once.
At the age of nineteen Cecil Holman married Alvin Middlebrook on December 29, 1930. The were married 54 years. Holman said the first Brownwood resident he met was another legend, Hardy Reed, and they remained friends throughout their lives. He said one of his best friends over the years was Ernest Lovelace, the man who gave him his first job. And he was also good friends with Brownwood teacher and coach Gus Snodgrass, who was also a native of Coleman.
Through hard work and thrift, Holman eventually owned and operated two businesses, Holman Funeral Home and Holman’s Food Store. The funeral home served both Brownwood and Coleman. Occasionally the family of the deceased was unable to pay for the funeral. Holman would respectfully perform the funeral service, and then work out compensation in trade. “They pay me anything, old cars and even hogs.”
For a while Holman also had a radio show on the KEAN radio station, known as the “Coast to Coast Show.” He described it as a musical talk show, and it aired three times a week.
But the most positive contribution Cecil Holman made was his wise counsel to the youth of the community. He considered himself to be a male “Dear Abby.” He “held court” in his general store with troubled youth, listened to their problems, and offered his advice. “I make friends with the kids and win their confidence.” Many Brownwood civic leaders and law enforcement officials gave credit to Holman for being a steadying influence in Brownwood race relations. “Integration did not have to come to Brownwood to give us a fair chance. I feel we have always had it.” He also once commented: “One thing you can say about Brownwood is that we do have opportunities here. The people are good and most work for the community. I really cannot complain about anything. Life has been good to me.”
Cecil Holman was a friend to everyone in Brownwood, and was known to always have time to talk with anyone who wanted a word with him. In 1979 he was honored as Man Of The Year Over 35. One year later it was his duty to present the same award to the Man Of the Year in 1980. Being a great humorist, Holman said “I feel that I owe a report to the citizens of Brownwood of my accomplishments for the past year. And they are, I’m another year older and deeper in debt.” The crowd roared with laughter.
Throughout his time in Brownwood Holman was a member of the Lee Chapel AME Church, Knights of Pythias, and the Masonic Lodge. When Cecil Holman passed away on March 4, 1985 at the age of 74, the Brownwood City Council held a moment of silent prayer in his memory. Later that year in July the City of Brownwood dedicated Cecil Holman Park in his honor.
Cecil Holman: A Great American!