EZRA EDWARD HILL

Born in Baltimore on December 19, 1910, Ezra Edward Hill, Sr. has lived a long and eventful life and it is NABVETS honor to recognize him as Co-Chair of the 19th Annual Buffalo Soldiers Memorial Banquet.  As a child, he spent time with his grandmother in North Carolina.  He remembers the hard work and sweat associated with cotton fields and he recalls being toted on his grandmother’s bag while picking cotton.  He returned to Baltimore in 1923 after the passing of his grandmother.  In 1937, after a brief career in the Negro Baseball League, he became an entrepreneur, opening the Avalon Shoe Store.  Five years later, he married Doris Elizabeth Cooper who not only became his devoted wife but his business partner as well.  After their first child, Doris Anita, was born he enlisted in the U.S Army and was assigned to a combat engineer unit.  He vividly recalls that his unit could do just about anything, from getting the lights back on, to building a road, constructing a pontoon bridge and any other task needed.

Stationed in England prior to the invasion of Normandy, he recalls the kindness of the British and he also remembers his unit commander, Captain Bergeron, who stood up for his troops fighting institutional racism.  He landed in Normandy three days (D plus 3) after the initial thrust.  He was subsequently assigned to guard German POWs and he did so in a humane manner, stating that he would always hold on to his humanity – no matter what.

After being injured in France, he was sent back to America.  On the hospital ship, all G.I.’s were together but as soon as they arrived in the United States, blacks were moved to one side and whites to the other.  This was a welcome home reminder that it was back to business as usually.

Once released from active duty, he returned to his business and as it developed, he forged a strong relationship with the community which resulted in encounters with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and a host of political leaders and other dignitaries.

Mr. Hill enjoyed the respect of the community and during the insurrection following the assassination of Dr. King, he business was spared.  He influenced several generations, as his son, Ezra Jr., recalls to include young people like his nephew, Reginald Francis Lewis and Robert Bell, both graduates of Harvard Law School.  He is recalled by East Baltimoreans as the people’s merchant who always treated his patrons as children of God.

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