For 30 years of William Holliday Sr.’s life, his family would recite his history and achievements at their family reunion. When Holliday died in... A sharecropper’s life: Matoaca resident talks about his grandfather’s legacy
Jim McKnight holds a copy of a book he wrote about his grandfather.

For 30 years of William Holliday Sr.’s life, his family would recite his history and achievements at their family reunion. When Holliday died in 2004 at the age of 112, he was one of the oldest men in the country and his grandson, Jim McKnight, said he wanted his legacy to stay alive.

“All I knew is that the documents and the history, once it’s written, it’s written, and if it’s just on a piece of paper, it’ll get lost and misplaced and that’s the end of it, and I know I didn’t want that,” McKnight said.

McKnight was raised by Holliday from age 3 until he was 16. After McKnight’s daughter’s blog about Holliday went viral, McKnight said he realized he had to do something. With the help of genealogist Sahara Bowser, McKnight was able to map out his family tree and knew it necessitated a book.

McKnight published “My Story of a Sharecropper’s Life” a little over a year ago. It depicts Holliday’s life through stories from his relatives. McKnight said he was surprised but pleased with the response.

“I’m shocked by the interest level and the sales of the book over the past 12 months … I can’t believe it,” McKnight said.

Holliday was born in 1893 in Summerton, S.C., and was the son of freed slaves who became sharecroppers (tenants who were allowed to use land in exchange for a share of the crops produced).

Before becoming a sharecropper, Holliday began doing carpentry when he was 16. He was a sharecropper for 59 years and, according to McKnight’s book, earned only $85.

“He was a carpenter for his grandfather … [but] he couldn’t continue because of the Civil War, and sharecropping was the only thing left,” McKnight said. “They had to find a way to keep those farms going, so he took that job and never made [much] money.”

McKnight doesn’t want his book to be viewed as being only about sharecropping. He said Holliday saw the job as an entrepreneurship. McKnight emphasized that his grandfather had drive and a survival instinct that his children inherited.

During McKnight’s youth, Summerton was affected by Briggs v. Elliott, a court decision that was the precursor to Brown v. Board of Education. The case was filed on behalf of Harry Briggs and 21 other families, seven of whom were Holliday’s relatives. They sought out Holliday for advice and security. McKnight said the families respected his grandfather and that he carried a lot of influence.

“Everybody knew who he was … if [a person was] walking wrong, [he would] straighten up when [he got] near him,” McKnight said. “Everywhere he went, he was well known and respected.”

Though Holliday would have thought his grandson’s book was too revolutionary, McKnight said he would have loved the chapter about his grandmother, Maggie. McKnight said Holliday had an interest and appreciation for his wife and that is where he got strength.

McKnight set out on a journey to research his family tree and in the end delivered a book about his grandfather’s life and legacy. He hopes that youth will read the book, if not now, then in the future.

“The youth are one day [going to] become interested in this family tree or their children will,” he said.

“A Sharecropper’s Life” will be discussed from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Chester Library.