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Honoring the Life of Joseph G. McClain

by | Feb 9, 2021

The McClain family in a photo from the funeral program. Erving and Joseph McClain and their son David.

Sunday afternoon, friends and family members of Mr. Joseph G. McClain held a graveside service at the Christian Aid Society Cemetery.

Mr. McClain died just weeks ahead of his 91st birthday.

Reverend Herbert Hill officiated at the ceremony and Rev. Darryl Van Pelt read several verses of scripture. Mr. McClain was eulogized by Rev. Christopher Springs.

Ruby Houston spoke at the ceremony and after acknowledging and thanking the ministers she provided a series of reflections on the life of “Mr. Joe.”

She said, “It is no coincidence that Mr. Joe passed on the eve of Black History Month.”

Joseph McClain lived out the true meaning of the words in the song, “Life Every Voice and Sing – Until Earth and Heaven Ring.”

Ruby also shared several comments from members of the community:

“David Beatty called Joe ‘the Moses of our community.’

Mayor Rusty Knox said ‘Joe gave me my first cut, and my last before I went bald.’

Former Mayor John Woods said he considered ‘Joe among his best friends for life.’

Mrs. Cornelia Hijiya expressed her gratitude for Mr. Joe’s gifts of homegrown fruit and vegetables from the back of his truck after church service.

A photo uploaded to the web site by Sam Reid.


Curtis Brandon Jr. said actor Ice Cube’s character in the movie “Barber Shop” maintained a shop where he did not tolerate mess. “Neither did Mr. Joe.” Curtis said there was a sign in Joe’s shop behind his mother’s home) that said “Please don’t ask for credit – because we don’t mind saying no!

Curtis quickly followed up that he knew that Joe still gave help to a number of men and boys who came into the shop.”

Ruby then shared some other personal reflections. “Joe’s strictness came through very clear when he scolded us when we missed participating in Sunday School, Church, or Choir.

His famous words were, ‘Where were you? I didn’t see you in church today.”

His firmness was balanced by his kindness. Everyone respected Joe because we did not see his actions as meddling, but rather the encouragement we needed at the time.

Joe McClain was involved in every program in his church and throughout the community. He was a Ruling Elder, a Deacon, the Superintendent of Sunday School, teacher, van driver, and choir member and director. He delivered food bags and Christmas, he decorated a flatbed for the choir to sing Christmas Carols, and he was always involved in food sales to benefit the church.

Ruby concluded her remarks by saying that Joe McClain has a new position as the Choir Chorister in heaven.

We could easily end this In Memoriam article about Mr. McClain right there, but your News of Davidson editors wanted to add some additional reflections to paint a more detailed picture of Joseph G. McClain.

Ruby Houston’s reference to Black History Month is reflective of the fact Joseph G. McClain is part of Davidson’s history. The following information is compiled from several sources to paint a better picture of his impact in our community.

To put things into perspective, Mr. McClain returned to Davidson in the early 1950s following his service in the Army – a military that was desegrated. Yet, Davidson was still a segregated town – and would remain segregated for more than another decade.

As noted in the historical timeline on the Town website: “1964-1968: The town was also beginning to deal with ending segregation. The town’s schools first integrated in 1964 when the second-grade class from Davidson Colored was sent to Davidson Elementary. The black school building was closed in 1965 and was then used as a Head Start center.”

Mr. McClain didn’t wait for another decade to make his voice heard. In May 1969, Joe McClain ran for public office – and won. He was elected to serve as a member of the Davidson Town Board, alongside J.W. Reid Jr., H.B. Naramore, Grover Meetze, and E.T. McEver. The newly elected mayor was T. S. Sadler.

In “One Town: Many Voices – A History of Davidson North Carolina” Jan Blodgett and Ralph Levering described McClain’s election this way:

“A landmark in Davidson history was the election of the town’s first black commissioner, Joe McClain in November 1969. Together with blacks who served on the Community Relations Committee and other town committees, McClain helped bring the concerns of black residents to the rest of the board and to the mayor. After being re-elected three times, McClain decided to retire from the board when his fourth term ended in 1977.”

And it is difficult to determine the incredible impact his tenure on the Davidson Town Board had for generations to come. Because even after he left elected office, McClain kept serving as a resource, a mentor, an advisor to those elected to town office.

Joseph G. “Joe” McClain

Editor and former Town Board member Margo Williams valued Joe’s gracious and insightful support during her years on the board, “Never angry, Joe shared good, positive suggestions about how we could move forward,” she said.
Other members of the community have shared stories on social media.
Davidson professor Karl Plank commented on Facebook: “It’s been nearly 30 years since this happened. After a baseball game at McEver Field one night (I had been coaching with Peter Hess and Randy Nelson), one of our players, a young African American (Wyatt Rivens), went out to his family’s car beyond the outfield fence where many parked. The car had broken down and members of the family were waiting around it. I asked if I could be of any help, either going to call someone or giving them a ride. With a clear voice one replied, “Mr. Joe’s coming.” And sure enough, in a few minutes Mr. Joe McClain arrived with his truck, greeted all, and quietly set about to get the car running. I remember the confidence in the voice as it said, “Mr. Joe’s coming” and the easy dignity of the one who had answered their need. What he did and the way he did it, who he was so given in the deed.”
A final comment on Facebook will likely resonate with many town citizens. James Gibert said “Sitting in the chair at Raeford’s barber shop while he cut my hair, and listening to him reminisce in his soft, calm voice is one of the things I really miss about Davidson. I always felt better after my time with him, and (as he always said when he finished) I was always a ‘better looking gentleman’ too.”
Rest in Peace Mr. McClain, our town is a better place because you were a leader in our community, a pillar without peer.

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