Freeman: candidate, activist, grandfather

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A two-year-old boy came with his grandfather for the man's interview on Friday when he announced his candidacy for mayor and told his life-story that included some indications that he was a lot like his grandson at that age.

Steven Dwayne Acklin will be three years old just before Lewisburg's May 5 election when his grandfather, Jerry Wayne Freeman, 53, will be competing against Barbara Woods, a retired teacher and principal in the Marshall County School System.

So, while Steven rolled, ran and generally behaved like a two-year-old at the Tribune office on Friday, the grandfather spoke of the campaign.

Freeman might best be known as the former executive director of the Lewisburg Public Housing Authority, a position that he lost in September 2003 when Authority directors said they didn't renew his contract. Freeman complains it was for other reasons after he'd been an Authority employee for 28 years.

Freeman went from maintenance man to executive director, he said, adding that the two years before his contract wasn't renewed, he received three pay raises at five- 10- and 15 percent.

During those decades with the Authority, he came to see how the projects work and takes issue with how it's been done.

"I know I've been a stickler to some people asking them to tell the truth on what they've done," he said. "But if you look around the country, you'll see that we have serious issues with ethics in government.

"I'm sorry," he said. "That's just the way it is.

"There's a desperate need for change."

Now, he's running for mayor saying he's doing so "because I believe that things can be done better and I believe I can manage the city better.

"I have fresh, new, innovative ideas - out of the box ideas - and I love Lewisburg," Freeman said.

He makes allegations about "mismanagement and unethical activities" by city government and says he will be making an announcement in the coming weeks of his placement of proof on a website to be posted on the Internet.

Meanwhile, here's his background.

Born Sept. 4, 1956 in Nashville, he grew up to join his father's business, J.W. Freeman & Sons Construction Co.

"Daddy was one of those who said you had to work for your keep," Freeman said.

As a youth in Nashville, Freeman used to "sneak out of school" with his cousin and, as a result, "I got shipped off," he said of how he became acquainted with Marshall County.

"I guess, I was one of those kids who kind of stayed in trouble and when that happened, I got shipped to Belfast.

"I spent most of my time like him," Freeman says of his grandson, "in Belfast" with family there.

Freeman stayed with his grandparents, Willie and Annie Freeman, during those years.

He graduated from Marshall County High School in 1975 and went directly into the Tennessee Army National Guard. In the Army, he was a cook, a vehicle driver, and a nuclear, chemical, biological warfare specialist. That later job included work with nerve gas, blister agents and "other things the Russians came out with like Agent BC which was a dust they developed to drop on the population as they flew over."

Lewisburg's population has grown some since then, "but it still carries the same character, he said. "That's what I like. It's one big family, and like a family, we will fight and disagree."

He's an only son with seven sisters and, sometimes at the end of a daily fight, they'd put him in the closet, he said.

As a young man, he worked at the Genesco shoe factory where he glued the sole to the upper part of the shoe before it was stitched on. Later, he worked bagging powder milk with Dairyman Inc.

But a couple of weeks later, he said, "Mrs. Ladela Lloyd (then the executive directorof the Authority) said she had a job for me in maintenance." So, he quit the job with Dairyman Inc.

Freeman was still serving as a citizen soldier when he started working for the housing authority, he said. In 1983, he left the Guard, explaining that he was "prodded out" since he was the only experienced maintenance employee at the Authority, "they couldn't do without me for two weeks" during summer training.

Ultimately, he was executive director for five years, he said. During that time, he developed the Silver Street Youth Enrichment program as well as the Workforce Investment Act Youth Grant program.

Youngsters were taken to the Civil Rights Center in Birmingham, Ala., where Dr. King wrote a letter from jail. It said there are basic principles to guide people in times of difficulties, including ascertainment of facts, negotiation and action.

There's also a period of purification, and Freeman says he's trying to follow that advice.

In recent months, he's had back surgery to repair a disc and during that time doctors found a growth on his spine, sot at was removed.

"I'm alright now," he said.

While campaigning, Freeman is working on the remodeling of the Saint James Primitive Baptist Church on Silver Street. He's chairman of the Deacons Board.

He's the owner of Southern Enterprises Construction Consulting, a business that's dormant, but he anticipates it will be "up and running" this spring.

Freeman's wife is Camilla "Rena (McClean) Freeman.