Poet, community leader
The poet laureate of Bluffton, South Carolina, Oscar Frazier published two volumes of poetry and a children's book. Aside from his influence as a poet, Frazier was a well-loved community leader both in his hometown of Bluffton and throughout Beaufort County, South Carolina. He was a town councilman and mayor pro tem, a diplomatic peacemaker and a bridge between the races.
Oscar James Frazier was born on January 21, 1956, in Bluffton, located between Hilton Head Island and the town of Beaufort. His parents, Oscar B. and Daisy P. Frazier, were from the Gullah tradition, an African-rooted culture of the South Carolina coast and the Sea Islands. After graduating from H. E. McCracken High School, Frazier joined the U. S. Army, serving for three years. Following his discharge he returned to Bluffton, where he would invest his energies for the rest of his life.
Frazier had an entrepreneur's mind, and ran several different types of businesses over the years. He studied construction and roofing at Beaufort Technical College. He first ran his own landscaping business, and later worked for many years as a roofer and a carpenter. After several setbacks Frazier opened a take-out stand, Oscar's Barbecue, in downtown Bluffton in 2004. He served barbecued pork, turkey, chicken, and sausage, as well as side dishes. His stand was built to look like a little red caboose with a sign featuring a pig in a chef's hat.
Frazier was first elected to the Bluffton town council in 1998 and garnered more votes than any other candidate in two subsequent elections. Beginning in 2002 Frazier was a member of the committee that negotiated with developers. Bluffton was entering a period of exponential growth, annexing thousands of acres and turning the one-square-mile town into a 50-square-mile metropolis. By 2005 Bluffton was South Carolina's second-fastest-growing city. Frazier pushed hard for the town to annex poorer outlying areas so that those residents could benefit from city services. This led to racial tensions that bothered Frazier a great deal. He called for everyone to participate in the Martin Luther King Day parade. In January of 2005 the council members reelected Frazier mayor pro tem and he became chair of the council's finance committee.
The Reverend Willie Ann Hamilton, who ran Frazier's 2004 campaign for the town council, said at his funeral that he was a man who would, as quoted in the Beaufort Gazette, "stand up and speak up for what was right." Frazier served on several town panels and on the boards of numerous civic and community organizations.
Frazier's particular concern was the children of Bluffton. He served on the boards of directors of the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club of Bluffton and interacted closely with the children. Molly Smith, director of the Boys and Girls Club, told the Island Packet of Frazier's personal connection with the children: "He would come by and read his poems to them and always give them a positive word and encouragement…. In his presence, you would receive the kind and loving and caring spirit that he had." Frazier was very involved in activities and events at the Michael C. Riley Elementary School. He was a founding member of Bluffton's public safety committee, supporting the police department. However his attempts at instituting a curfew on the children of Bluffton were unsuccessful. As a football coach he fought hard for more soccer, football, and baseball fields at a time when land in town was at a premium. He worked closely with Beaufort County's Parks and Leisure Services department and helped design the new Shults Park.
A man of tireless energy, Frazier and the Reverend Paul Hamilton co-founded the Bible Missionary Baptist Church, where Frazier served as deacon. At Frazier's funeral at the Campbell Chapel AME Church, Hamilton spoke of their hard work together, as quoted in the Beaufort Gazette: "I would pray, 'Lord, let the sun go down so we can go home.' He'd be praying, 'Lord, give us a few more hours of light to get the job done.'"
In addition to his business and community work, Frazier was a poet. He told Rob Dewig of the Carolina News on the Web, Lowcountry Now, that he found inspiration from his "zest for life" and that he considered his talent to be "a gift" from God. He first started writing poems in high school, and found it a greatly satisfying way to express himself. "Sometimes, I write when I'm on the job and I'll write at home. Sometimes my wife gets upset with me because I've got the light on (at night). Sometimes I sit down and write 10 or 12 poems per day," Frazier explained to Dewig.
After attending the International Society of Poets symposium in Washington, D.C., in August of 2000, Frazier founded the Bluffton Poets Society. After almost 30 years of writing poetry, he had recently published his first poetry collection, Poetic I, and decided it was time to reach out to other local "closet poets," as he called them. Along with local businesswomen Molly Carrington and Tonya Williams, Frazier decided to expand the society beyond poetry to include other forms of self-expression: short stories, plays, children's and adult fiction, and non-fiction. They added the nearly-forgotten art of community storytelling and changed the organization's name to the Poets & Writers-Storytellers Society (PAWSS). Frazier saw PAWSS as a means of strengthening the community and the group encouraged the participation of children. He and other PAWSS members read at Bluffton elementary and high schools and to retirement communities in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island. Frazier became Bluffton's poet laureate in 2001. He helped found and performed at the Beaufort County Public Library's annual poetry slam.
Frazier's other published books were Poetic II and a children's book, What Color is Friendship? This story-in-verse was inspired by his experience in the ninth grade at the newly integrated high school. There he made his first white friend, Bailey Bolen, a fellow member of the track team and later godfather to his first child. Fourth- and fifth-grade art students at Riley Elementary School illustrated the book. Frazier self-published it in 2004 and dedicated it to Bolen.
Frazier died on August 22, 2005, at the age of 49, at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. It was just over a week after he had been diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. In that last week friends organized a series of fundraisers to help defray his medical expenses. The Beaufort Gazette quoted Bailey Bolen at Frazier's funeral, where he described his friend as "a family man, a church man, a religious man, a humble man, a polite man, a carpenter, a gardener, a restaurateur, a pillar of his community, a poet, a poet laureate, and, most of all, a friend to everyone, who gave more than he got in return." His brothers Benjamin, Kenneth, Vernal, Thaddeus, Theodore, and John Frazier served as his pall bearers. A Bluffton park was renamed Oscar Frazier Park in his honor. In April of 2006 Bluffton hosted several Frazier-connected events in celebration of National Poetry Month.
At a Glance …
Born Oscar James Frazier on January 21, 1956, in Bluffton, SC; died August 22, 2005, in Charleston, SC; married Marcia Renea; children: Jacqueline, Oscar James Jr., Bridgette, Joshua. Education: Beaufort Technical College, roofing, construction. Military Service: U. S. Army. Religion: Baptist.
Career: landscaping business, Bluffton, SC; Bluffton town council, member, 1998–05, mayor pro tem, 2002–05, finance committee chair, 2005; Oscar's Barbecue, Bluffton, SC, owner, 2004–05.
Memberships: Bible Missionary Baptist Church, cofounder, deacon; Bluffton Poets Society, Poets & Writers-Storytellers Society, founder; Bluffton Public Safety Committee, founding member; YMCA, board of directors; Boys and Girls Club of Bluffton, board of directors.
Awards: Bluffton, SC, Poet Laureate, 2001; Bluffton, SC, Oscar J. Frazier Park, named in his honor.
Poetic I, 2000.
The Color of Friendship, 2004.
The Bluffton PAWSS, www.newsletters-plus.com/pawss.html (May 17, 2006).
"Frazier Succumbs to Cancer: Rare Form of Disease Too Far Gone to Save Councilman, Poet," The Island Packet Online, www.islandpacket.com/news/local/story/5122822p-4662904c.html (May 17, 2006).
"Mayor Pro Tem Frazier Remembered Fondly," The Beaufort Gazette Online, www.beaufortgazette.com/local_news/story/5131030p-4669414c.html (May 17, 2006).
"A Tribute to Oscar J. Frazier," The Art Asylum, www.theartasylum.net/oscar.html (May 17, 2006).
"Oscar Frazier: Poetic 1," Carolina Morning News on the Web, Lowcountry Now, www.lowcountrynow.com/stories/080100/LOCoscar.shtml (October 9, 2006).
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