Hartsville Museum honors a groundbreaking firefighter

George Cannon was Hartsville’s first full-time black firefighter. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The dream of most boys is to drive a fire truck. This dream became a reality for George Cannon when he was hired as the first full-time African-American firefighter with the City of Hartsville. At the signing of a federal holiday celebrating the emancipation of African-Americans who had been enslaved, this seems an appropriate time to recognize Cannon and his role in breaking one of the racial barriers in Hartsville. The youngest from among eight siblings, he has always been determined to do his part in making this world a better place in which to live. The Hartsville Museum is currently honoring Cannon with a display commemorating his work as a Hartsville firefighter. The display has several pieces of Cannon’s personal items including his fireman’s shirt, helmet, newspaper articles, plaques, training certificates, events he attended, pictures and several pieces of historic items from the Fire Department — firefighter suit and fire hydrant, among others. This exhibit also provides information on Albertus “Burt” Bacote, one of the first volunteer African-American firemen for the City of Hartsville. Bacote served from 1908-1964. The display was ready for public viewing June 17 and will remain through Fire Prevention Week in October. The museum is at 222 North Fifth Street, Hartsville, and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Cannon knew early in life he was concerned about helping his fellow man. He was hired at the old Byerly Hospital as an orderly at 15. He was committed to his position and made lifelong relationships with the staff, including Drs. William Byerly (the hospital’s namesake), Bubba Nickles, Barney Timmons and Jimmy Bell. Cannon met Joe “Doc” McCullough, owner of Hartsville Drug Store, through his mentor/friend Rufus Bess. At Hartsville Drug Store, he delivered medicines and other supplies to homes around Hartsville. This relationship with Bess and McCullough caused Cannon to develop a love for woodcraft. He used this gift to build custom cabinets and other unique pieces that included helping build the interior of the drugstore in Hartsville as well as a drugstore owned by McCullough in Conway. Always concerned about helping his fellow man, he made a bid for Darlington County Council. He lost to Belinda Copeland, for whom he had the utmost respect. Cannon has always been an active member of Centenary United Methodist Church. He was the youngest, and currently only living, person to help with the building of the new church on South Sixth Street in Hartsville. Centenary, formerly located on Marlboro Avenue, was built in 1965. When the city was looking to build a new Fire Department, Cannon was encouraged by McCullough to “get over there and apply for a fireman position.” In 1976 Cannon was hired and began a career that spanned more than 20 years from full-time to volunteer with the City of Hartsville and Darlington County Fire District at Station # 8 in Pine Ridge. He has memories of several major fires as well as fires where lives were lost. He enjoyed taking the fire truck to schools during Fire Prevention week in October and other events for children to experience what he once dreamed about. While working with the Fire Departments he also worked with the Hartsville and Pine Ridge Rescue Squads. Cannon has always been supported by his wife, Rev. Willie Mae Cannon, who recalls “the many interrupted family events when the fire monitor went off, or the late night alarms. I accepted his call to serve in this way because that’s just who he is.” Cannon, youngest son of the late Alonzo “LC” and Eliza Lyde Cannon, was born in Hartsville in 1949. He attended public schools in Hartsville graduating from Butler High School in 1969. Cannon and his wife are the parents of two adult daughters, three granddaughters one great-grandson. He spends his retirement years with the same attitude of being a servant to his fellow man.

Author: Rachel Howell

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