Mr. James “D” Avery, Sr.was born on Sunday, December 8, 1929 as the fourth child to the union of the late Willis Avery, Sr. and the late Adeline Carter Avery. He accepted and professed Christ as his Lord and Savior at a young age while attending Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Newbern, Alabama where he served faithfully until his ascension. He had great compassion and zeal for life from birth in this world to his celestial transition on Wednesday, October 20, 2021.
James attended Reynold’s Chapel Elementary School and graduated from Lincoln Normal High in 1947. James obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Alabama A&M and began teaching at Keith High School in Orrville, AL. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and served as a Medic in The Korean War. After his military service, James earned a Master of Education degree from Alabama State University. He used his degrees to teach hundreds of children, returning to Keith High School, then on to Reynold’s Chapel Elementary School, and later at West Side High School from which he retired after a combined 30 years of service.
While teaching at Keith High School, James met the love of his life, Willie Nell Fail, and after a long chase, they were joined in holy matrimony on June 2, 1960. Together, they built an amazing legacy that has touched the lives of so many people across every facet of life from the political, educational, agricultural, and spiritual agendas, to every single person they met.
On the political scene, James was one of the first black men to become a registered voter in Perry County and later worked at the voting polls, watching the process and ensuring every vote counted. By teaching others how to read and write their name, James encouraged others to register to vote and join the fight for civil rights. He partnered with his fellow community brothers to form the Sportsman Club and helped forge a community of togetherness through social events and gatherings. It was at this Sportsman Club that the first meetings were held that led to historic events such as the raid that led to the demise of Jimmie Lee Jackson, Bloody Sunday, the March from Selma to Montgomery, and countless other peaceful marches. A civil rights activist in his own right, James supported the movement, marched alongside great leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Jessie Jackson Mr. Albert Turner, and other fellow foot soldiers. His footprints and those of Willie Nell are on display at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma where he was inducted as a foot soldier in 2018. One of the most memorable events in his public service career was his journey to Washington DC in 2015 where he was able to see the fruit of his labor when he entered the White House as a guest and recipient of formal recognition from the 44th President of the United States, President Barak Obama, during the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. He was a member of the Perry County Civic League, a member of the organization Beyond Fifty Years, and a proud member of the Perry County Water Board until his accension.
As an educator in the Perry County school system, James taught high school subjects such as History, Economics, Government, and English. He would teach about Black History so youth would know about their heritage, even though it was not a part of the approved curriculum. Not only was he a teacher, but he also put his hands to work as a janitor, bus driver, basketball and volleyball coach, Assistant Principal responsible for discipline, and where ever else he could provide his assistance.
In the agricultural arena, James loved farm life. He taught his children how to work hard, care for the farm animals, and eat from the land so they would have no reason to go hungry. Driving the tractor was his favorite past time and was hard for him to let go when he could no longer physically operate the equipment, even though he had several accidents on the tractor that took a portion of his finger and crushed his ribs. When college students would visit the Avery farm, James would proudly show them around and teach them how to pick produce. James loved taking his produce to the Farmer’s Market to show them off, to sell, and to socialize with fellow farmers.
James loved God and was a lifelong member of Oak Grove United Methodist Church of Newbern, Alabama. He served in many roles and capacities as a servant for God. James was a member of the Alabama West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Organization. During his membership at Oak Grove, he served as the Member of the Administrator Board, Chairman for the United Methodist Men, Chairman for the Finance Committee, Chairman of the Trustee Board Member, Lay Leader, Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, President of the Adult Choir, Assistant Coordinator of Oak Grove United Methodist Church Food Bank, and wherever he saw a need to serve. James loved good singing and was a member of the Alabama Tones of Joy.
James was a member of Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association, Alabama State University Alumni Association, one of the founders of the West Perry – East Hale County Volunteer Fire Department where he was also a Volunteer Fire Fighter, Member of the Alabama Teachers Association, a Member of the Perry County Civic League, and a facilitator of sharing the story of the Legendary Walk of the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights movement. James was involved in and accomplished so much more, but lived by the mantra, “Let the work I’ve done speak for me.”
The legacy and accomplishments of James sound much like those you read in June for Willie Nell because they did everything together, supported each other in every endeavor, and truly exemplified becoming one flesh as recorded in Genesis 2:24 (NKJV) “ Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” They truly lived to fulfill the Word of God found in Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NKJV), “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”
James was preceded in death by his parents, Willis Sr. and Adaline Avery and step mother Bertha Ree Avery; his biological father and step mother Mr. and Mrs. Hatch; four brothers, Willis Jr. (aka Nick) and Eugene Avery, Isaac Hatch, and Charlie Hudson; three sisters, Ola Mae Howze, Carrie Mae & Gloria Jean Hudson; three sons, Roosevelt Carlisle, Norman Pair, and James Avery, Jr.; one daughter-in-law Mary Pair; two sons-in-law, Willie Lindsay and Reginald Brunson; and one grandson, Michael Lindsey.
James leaves to cherish his life and legacy: one son, Harold (Patricia) Perry of Baltimore, MD; four daughters, Cynthia Hunter of Montgomery, AL, Brennetta (Randy) Vaughn of Oak Ridge, TN, Lisa Brunson of Gadsden, AL, and Cassandra (David) Hooker, of Barstow, CA; two daughters-in-law, Dollye Carlisle of Fort Wayne, IN and Tametria Avery of Newbern, AL; three brothers, Robert Hatch of Marion, AL, Tom Avery of Newbern, AL, and Howard Avery of Birmingham, AL; four sisters, Carolyn (Ronnie) White, Irma (Raynard) Snow of Milbrook, AL, Della (Taalib) Abdullah of Tampa, FL, and Jessica Hatch of Birmingham, AL; five sisters-in-law, Georgia Pearl James of Cleveland, OH, Velma Perkins of Atlanta, GA, Helen Avery of Newbern, AL, Judy Hatch of Birmingham, AL, and Anneli Fail of Los Angeles, CA; 25 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren, 6 great-great-grandchildren; a host of nieces, nephews, other relatives, believers, friends and colleagues.