Oscar Raynor, Benevolent Political Leader for 60 Years
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County Historian
Charlton County Herald
February 22, 1989
His was a politics of benevolence. Oscar Eldridge Raynor played the game of politics with the skill and tenderness of a master violinist caressing an instrument made by Antonio Stradivarius. For sixty years, from a 23 year old mayor in Linden, North Carolina in 1915 until his death on April 6, 1975 as a Justice of the Peace in Charlton County, Georgia, the North Carolina native blended life and politics into a stirring symphony which was to become one of the most colorful chapters in the history of Folkston and Charlton County. Public office to Oscar Raynor was a vehicle for helping others.
It was November 1917. A reluctant nation, six months earlier had declared war on Germany at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson following the sinking of three American ships, The City of Memphis, Vigilante and Illinois, all by German submarines. World War One had begun. A confident Oscar Raynor stepped from the train in Winokur, Georgia, a small piney woods community surrounded by a world of turbulence and uncertainty.
Oscar Raynor, 25, had tried without success to enlist in the military in North Carolina but was turned down for physical reasons. Dejected he became bored in his home town of Linden, where he had served as one of the youngest mayors in the state’s history at 23.
Raynor accepted a job offer in Winokur, in south Georgia from the Wade-Bell Company, a bustling farming, cross-tie operation there run of N.G. Wade, Sr. and J.T. Bell who had set up the operation in Winokur after leaving their homes in Linden and Wade Station, North Carolina. A graduate of Kings Business School in Raleigh, N.C. Raynor was to be in charge of the company’s bookkeeping and manage their thriving store business.
On May 26, 1918, Raynor and Nellie Elizabeth Bell, a 17 year old Winokur school teacher, and the oldest of J.T. Bell’s five daughters were married by Justice of the Peace N.H. Crews at his home in Winokur on a bright Sunday afternoon. The bell family, J.T. and Mary Cameron Bell, their five daughters, three sons and a daughter-in-law had settled in Winokur in November of 1916, living upstairs in the Wade Building, a replica in Winokur of B.G. McDonald’s House hotel on Folkston’s Main Street. Offices of the Wade-Bell Company occupied the ground floor, along with a general merchandise store.
After first arriving in Charlton County in 1917, Raynor’s name stayed in front of the people. On January 31, 1919 the weekly Charlton County Herald proclaimed “Mr. O.E. Raynor of Winokur was a pleasant caller at the Herald office Tuesday afternoon. He will begin teaching the Winokur school Monday morning.” The same issue told “Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Raynor will return to Linden, N.C. after spending a week in Winokur with their son, Oscar in Winokur.”
Again on March 7, 1919 the Herald ran a Raynor advertisement “I have bought out the Winokur Bargain House and am selling at cost the entire stock of goods, consisting of dry goods, shoes, hardware, staple and fancy groceries. See our boys suits going cheap. Medicine selling at half price. Come and see me. O.E. Raynor, Winokur.”
And indeed they did “come and see him.” The store quickly became the most popular place in Winokur. Soon everyone in the county had heard of Oscar Raynor and many of them had called on him for favors which he eagerly granted.
But, on May 5, 1920, the Herald told “Mr. O.E. Raynor has sold out his store to E.G. Warren. He and his wife will leave next week for Linden, N.C. where he is going to farm and merchandise.” It was the only time Oscar Raynor moved his home from Charlton County after arriving in 1917.
In 1924 the Raynors returned to Charlton County from North Carolina. They brought with them a daughter, Kathryn, who was born September 24, 1921 while they lived in North Carolina. They would settle in Folkston, Georgia this time where Raynor bought out the business interests of his father-in-law J.T. Bell who was moving with his family to Waycross.
Charlton County was to feel Oscar Raynor’s influence in every area of local and state government for nearly sixty years. In December 1929 Oscar Raynor sought and won a place on the Folkston City Council. From that beginning his friends and neighbors elected him many more times, to the city council post, twice as state senator, as a county commissioner on several occasions, to the state and local Democratic Executive Committees. And as Justice of the Peace, a position he held at the time of his death in 1975. Political office to Oscar Raynor gave him the catalyst to help others, a chore he sought and welcomed.
Frequently on the leading edge of social and economic change, Raynor was a pioneer in his time. He co-sponsored legislation as a Georgia State Senator in 1943 that gave the 18 year old the right to vote, a privilege until 1943 reserved for those 21 years old or older. Earlier, in 1920, Raynor had championed the adoption of a United States constitutional amendment allowing women to vote. The state’s school teachers enjoy a much greater retirement today because of legislatio introduced in the Georgia Senate by Oscar Raynor during the 1961-1962 session.
Raynor’s economic life was equally as progressive. In July 1925 when Georgia had few automobiles and even fewer paved roads the energetic entrepreneur ran a bus line, the Folkston-Waycross Bus Line, hauling passengers and freight from Folkston to Waycross. In October of that year, Raynor and Taylor Pickren, a Folkston neighbor, purchased the Waycross-Homerville Bus Line, extending the bus route from Folkston to Homerville via Waycross.
With the automobile holding promise of becoming common-place, in March of 1928 Raynor saw an opportunity to serve automobile owners. He bargained with Pan American Oil Company for the rights to be a district distributor in Charlton County for Pan-Am Gas & Oil Production, later to become Amoco, a dealership he held and expanded for sixteen years.
In 1938 Raynor who loved to join in “sings” in community churches, was elected to his first term as a member of the Charlton County Commission, beginning his term in January 1939. He was the Commission Chairman in 1939 and 1940. Raynor chose not to offer for re-election to the Board of Commissioners in 1942 when he decided to offer for the District 4, Georgia Senate seat representing Glynn, Camden and Charlton Counties. He again represented the senate district in 1961 and 1962. Intermingled with these public offices were numerous terms on the Folkston City Council. He was an official state elector for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944.
When World War Two erupted in December of 1941, Oscar Raynor, who held a deep sense of patriotism, proudly organized the Folkston chapter of the Georgia Home Guard and served as Captain of the Georgia State Guard whose volunteer troops guarded the railroad bridge across the St. Marys River south of Folkston against possible saboteurs.
During the later years of World War Two., Raynor and his daughter, Kathryn who had married Kirby Jones in 1941, worked in the J.A. Jones shipyards at Brunswick. Raynor was a labor superintendent and Kathryn worked in the timekeeping and payroll department, and in addition to his job, Raynor bought a used school bus and drove the vehicle hauling co-workers to and from work in Brunswick each day.
Oscar Raynor, who later operated a Frigidaire Appliance Store, Jones & Raynor, and Raynor’s Groceries on Fo9lkston’s Main Street, made friends easily, friends in high places, governors, secretaries of state, senators and presidents. Tales of favors he obtained for Charlton County people from those important people are legend, and expedited home loan for a veteran whose name had languished at the bottom of a pile of hundreds on a bureaucrat’s desk in Atlanta for months; a top executive job in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office for another friend; a job as a flagman on a state highway project for yet another friend with a serious heart condition who need to support his wife and two sons. The list goes on and on.
As with most active public office holders, Oscar Raynor had his critics. This never seemed to bother him. He would still fox hunt with those that had opposed his actions, never letting on that there had been any disagreement.
Perhaps the political career of Oscar Raynor can best be summed up by a statement made by John Harris, an astute Charlton political observer who lived to be over a hundred years old. Harris said, when one of Raynor’s political opponents had come to him seeking comfort after seeing his own candidate taste defeat at Raynor’s hands, “Son, I could have told you that you couldn’t beat Oscar Raynor…too many people here owe that man a favor, he’s kept bread on too many tables.”
Oscar Raynor died on April 6, 1975 after a long illness. He was Justice of the Peach for the Folkston Militia District at the time of his death. His bride, Nellie Bell, 89, whom he married in 1918 today still lives in the Raynor’s stately home build in 1884 on Folkston’s Magnolia Street. Living nearby is their daughter Kathryn Jones Watts. Living in Athens is grandson Freddy, and in Folkston a grandson Robert.
Alive also are Mrs. Raynor’s four sisters who arrived in Winokur, Ga. with her in 1916, Annie Bell Kohn, 85, Margaret Bell Hughes, 83, Lillias Bell Scott, 79, and Grace Bell Peagler, 75. Her three brothers, Claude, Richard and Hugh Bell are all deceased.
Living in Folkston today are Oscar Raynor’s sister, Lena Mae Turlington who also lives on Magnolia Street, and a brother, Jimmy Raynor who lives in Homeland.
When he was needed Oscar Eldridge Raynor, government leader, merchant, church leader or friend was there to answer the call. A member of the Folkston Methodist Church from 1924 until his death in 1975, Raynor served numerous terms on the official Board of Stewards of the church.
Raynor was especially proud of the leading role he took in the initial organization efforts for the Epworth League. Oscar Raynor’s wife Nellie, the daughter Kathryn and his two grandsons, Freddy and Robert Jones gave him years of joy and happiness. Daughter Kathryn as a school teacher for 39 years, grandson Freddy pursuing a successful career in sports journalism, and presently the athletic ticket manager for the University of Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, and grandson Robert, following the lead of his grandparents and mother in education serving as an athletic coach in football and basketball and as a teacher. History will deal kindly with such a gentle man as Oscar Raynor.