Let’s Name County For The ‘Peanut Man’

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In last week’s column, I proposed either moving the “Our Confederate Heroes” obelisk on the Gregg County Courthouse grounds, or adding an explanatory plaque to put it into context. If you missed it, here’s the link: https://tinyurl.com/yawa9une. Several dozen folks provided thoughtful — and civil — comments and suggestions. Several asked about the bust of the county’s namesake, Confederate Gen. John Gregg, which greets visitors at the top of the stairs of the courthouse’s main entrance.

John Gregg never lived in his namesake county, which was part of Upshur and Rusk counties until 1873. He might have passed through, but there is no evidence of it. Gregg County is one of 18 Texas counties formed after the Civil War that is named for Confederate soldiers. I view this as unfortunate but last week noted the likelihood of changing the county’s name is, roughly, zero. The expense for changing signage, etc. would be considerable. The Texas Legislature is more likely to enact a state income tax than change a county’s name, and we all know the likelihood of that.

I have come up with an elegant and inexpensive solution. But first a little history.

Our family moved to Longview in 1968, joining my paternal grandfather, who moved here in 1957 to continue his career as a Boy Scout executive. I soon landed a job selling newspapers downtown at the age of 13. My route started at the Bramlette Building, just up the street from the Longview News-Journal building. I was a single-copy sales person; in other words, folks decided every day whether they wanted to buy a copy of the afternoon edition, the Longview Daily News, from me. An issue cost a dime, and I got to keep half. My customers included men inside the Brass Rail, a smoky bar filled with tobacco-chewing oil wildcatters, being careful to avoid the area around the spittoons on the floor. I sold papers at the Sears building, now Kilgore College-Longview, at Riff’s, Hurwitz and Dillard’s — all downtown at the time. The terminus of my route were the Ford and Chevrolet dealerships at the corner of Cotton Street and Spur 63. It was a long route but provided plenty of spending money and launched my lifelong love for newspapers — a battered industry these days.

Often, I would notice a blind man led by a guide dog walking the downtown sidewalks, pulling a small red wagon. He was selling peanuts door to door, much as I was selling newspapers. He was also a familiar site at Longview Lobo football games in the old stadium off High Street. His name was Hubert Gregg, and he was known as the “Peanut Man.”

A search of newspapers.com brought up a front-page story in the News-Journal, published in 1991 when Gregg died, at the age of 92. According to the non-bylined story, Gregg was born in Michigan and lost his eyesight when he was six after contracting meningitis. He went to a school for the blind in Minnesota. After leaving there, Gregg as a young man worked as a piano and organ tuner, sold medical tools and “entertained audiences at revivals throughout the Midwest.”

Eventually, he ended up in El Dorado, Arkansas, and from there came to Longview during the East Texas oil boom, in 1931. For a while, he sold glassware, silver polish and newspapers, but the following year he “sold his first bag of peanuts at a minor league baseball game in Longview and decided that was what he would do for a living.”

And that is how Gregg made his living for the next 58 years. In a 1988 newspaper interview, he credited his father for giving him “his strong work ethic and streak of independence.” The Longview school district honored him on the 40th anniversary of selling peanuts at Lobo football games. There is a plaque honoring Gregg on a wall at Lobo Stadium.

The article concludes with a quote from a previous interview with Gregg: “I’ve had my ups and downs, but I get to get out and meet people,” he said. “And they’ve been darn good to me. Longview’s been good to me.”

So, why not move the bust of Gen. Gregg to the Gregg County Historical Museum and raise private funds to commission a bust and plaque of the “Peanut Man” to take its place? We can keep the county’s name unchanged but instead honor someone who was widely beloved by Longview residents.

Let’s do this.

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