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MAN BUILT HIS HOME 'MAKING 37 CENTS AT THE PLANT'
Layton Fairchild bio

 John Parker, John A. White and Layton Fairchild Sr. (left to right) are the lone three remaining members of the 1952 American Viscose Plant African-American League softball champions.
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Date published: 8/9/2011

By JENNIFER MILLER STROBEL

Layton Fairchild earned 37 cents an hour when he started work at the Sylvania Division of the American Viscose Corp. (later known as the FMC Corp). The factory complex spread out just south of town.

Round-trip bus fare for the 15 miles to and from Fairchild's Spotsylvania Courthouse home was 35 cents.

"I'd pay at the front door of the bus then go around to the back," Fairchild recalled in a recent interview.

That's the way it was in the 1940s segregated South.

Even as Fairchild, 16, followed the rule, it stung. He would help pull older people up and through the door in the back of the bus, where there were no steps.

He'll always remember one ride. He recounted: "One night a black lady got on in Fredericksburg. She was sitting in the middle of the bus when this white guy got on in the bus and told her to get in the back.

"I told her, 'Don't get up.' She didn't get up."

The white man then turned his attention to the black teenager and glared in a threatening way.

The matter was on his mind when Fairchild arrived home about 11:30 p.m., and called the owner of the bus company to tell him what happened.

The owner, a white man, told Fairchild to meet him at the plant the next day.

Any number of possibilities ran through Fairchild's mind until the meeting, when the bus company owner said he was glad Fairchild had called and that he wouldn't tolerate the white man's attitude.

"You don't forget things like that," Fairchild said of the experience that points to the complexities of life of the times.

Layton was born March 22, 1927, in Spotsylvania County, where he learned early about hard work.

From age 11 or so, he earned 10 cents an hour milking 50 dairy cows across the hill from his home.

After that, he'd walk four miles to John J. Wright School, then reverse the whole process at the end of the day. Then he'd return home to cut wood, draw water from the well, and work in the garden among other chores.

He saved his sole pair of shoes for school, so he'd walk barefoot to tend the cows.


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