Mashpee resident Louis F. Horner became the first black Little Leaguer in Stratford, Connecticut; the first black class president at his high school; and the first black graduate from Peekskill Military Academy in Peekskill, New York.
And, now, through Dog Ear Publishing Company and during Black History Month, he will be the first to publish a book about the Class of 1962 at Pennsylvania Military College and about his life before and after, revealing a personal journey of perseverance, success, and his reflections on race relations.
During an interview at his home at the Quashnet Condominiums this week, Mr. Horner spoke about growing up in Connecticut, about racism he faced in the corporate world of Massachusetts, and about a presidential citation he received from President Ronald Reagan for a computer enrichment program that served young adults across the country.
He said that being black is something that he thinks about on a daily basis, and that the best way to cope with the inevitable experiences of prejudice is to be prepared.
“You are born with a pilot light,” Mr. Horner said. “Sometimes it ignites, and you don’t know what you will do with it. You know it’s going to come but you don’t know how deep the arrows will go in.”
The book, titled “Who Will Water the Flowers?” was scheduled for printing by Dog Ear this month. Mr. Horner expects copies to arrive at the end of this month, concluding its 30-year journey from inception to publication.
“It’s an emotional time,” he said.
Mr. Horner will discuss the book and sign copies at an African-American History Month event presented by Widener University’s Pennsylvania Military College Museum at 1:30 PM Saturday, February 27. Pennsylvania Military College became Widener University.
Mr. Horner has returned to Widener University’s campus previously to be honored as the April 2009 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year and to throw out the first pitch of the alumni baseball game during Homecoming Weekend in 2011. He visits his classmates regularly.
While nothing locally is planned, he said that he would be open to giving a presentation or book signing in Mashpee or the Zion Union Heritage Museum in Hyannis.
“Tough” is the one-word response Mr. Horner gives to living as a black man the last 76 years.
There was the time, after advancing through the ranks of Digital Equipment Corporation in the 1970s, when his success landed him a red BMW. He received some nods of approval from some fellow coworkers on his proud purchase, but one response stuck with him. One coworker told him in passing that the drug trade must have been good.
Then there was the time, during a business Christmas party, with a crowd gathered and looking on, Mr. Horner unwrapped a present, revealing a watermelon.
Or when one corporate executive remarked at a business meeting, “It’s like finding a nigger in a haystack,” to which Mr. Horner coolly said he could no longer work with the man because his prejudices would show through in their work.
Parts of the book detail these experiences.
Then there is the flip side. In the summer before his senior year, he and 14 white classmates went to a movie theater. The ticket salesman whispered to Mr. Horner that he would have to purchase a ticket for the upstairs, “colored” seating. After hearing this, his 14 classmates proceeded to purchase tickets for the upstairs to watch the movie with their black classmate.
“That’s integration,” he said.
“Who Will Water the Flowers?” discusses the types of friendships he forged, especially during the four years at Pennsylvania Military.
He recalled another story about how his classmates came together when a few faced suspension for a prank. A group of his classmates built a tower 15 to 20 feet high with railroad ties. His class and then eventually the whole school went on a hunger strike when the administration threatened to suspend the graduation of the suspects.
When the administration pulled Mr. Horner’s entire class into the auditorium and demanded the culprits come forward, one at a time, the entire class stood up and claimed responsibility.
“When you came to [Pennsylvania Military College], you were bringing your baggage and you had to leave it at the door,” Mr. Horner said proudly of the military school. “We all had to march to the same drummer.”
Mr. Horner’s book chronicles his life prior to Pennsylvania, life in the school, and life after.
After graduating from the military college in 1962, Mr. Horner was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army Signal Corps and was sent to Germany.
Much of his career he spent as as a human resource manager with Digital Equipment Corporation out of Springfield. In 1985, he received a presidential citation from President Reagan for a computer enrichment program he designed.
Mr. Horner retired from Digital in 1993 to start a promotional marketing company with clients from educational institutions and Fortune 500 companies. He then retired from that company in 2003 and moved to Mashpee.
He says that a “startling spiritual experience” left him with a sense of urgency to share his life story through “Who Will Water the Flowers?”
When he returned for his first reunion at the Pennsylvania college in 2002 he realized that when his entire class died, there would be no one left to tell their tale. So, freshly retired and living in Mashpee, he sat and wrote.
In the “introspections” section of the book, Mr. Horner writes: “We all cast the same color shadow, but to what extent has your individual shadow been and felt by others in your family, workplace, country, and, in some cases, throughout the world?
“It can be said that we all believed in each other before we believed in ourselves,” he continues. “Through our four years together we gave up part of our individuality. In doing so, we developed a set of common goals, ideals, and values.”
Correction March 2, 2016: Mr. Horner graduated from Pennsylvania Military College in 1962. His book chronicles much of his experience at the Pennsylvania college rather than his high school experience at Peekskill Military Academy as was written.