A lot has changed in the last 50 years in James Isom's eyes, and a lot has stayed the same.
While the longtime Thomson resident said that race relations in the United States have vastly improved over time, he's continued to do what he's done for the last 40 years: pass off his love of music onto others.
James Isom plays and sings during a December celebration at Springfield Baptist Church.
Jason B. Smith
For 31 years, Mr. Isom taught music at Norris and Thomson Middle School. And for the last 42 years, he's been the music director at Springfield Baptist Church, where he is a member.
"It was a very great experience for me," he said of his time at the middle school, where he taught everything from operettas to choir. "I had some of the greatest experiences working with children, who were all different, and working with them and having a great product of people."
He said he taught his students to always aim to be the very best, which often rubbed off when the annual music competition would roll around.
"We didn't go to be good, we went to be excellent or superior," he said.
Mr. Isom was born in Baxley, Ga. He attended Fort Valley State University and moved to Thomson in 1958. He and his wife, Agnes, have two sons -- Demetrius, who is an IT Project Manager in Atlanta, and Joel, who is a doctor in Nashville.
Mr. Isom said an event early in his life helped shape his faith, while serving as a devastating reminder as to how African-Americans were viewed by the rest of the country.
Mr. Isom said that his mother, pregnant with his young brother Johnny, was hit by a car and dragged for a quarter of a mile. The man driving the car was not arrested. His brother was born healthy, and his mother recovered from the accident, but the event still weighs heavily on Mr. Isom's mind.
"Back then you could do anything to a black person and get away with it," he said. "My mother, after that, when she would walk, you couldn't tell she was in any kind of wreck or anything. The Lord let her live until she was 82 years old."
The well-known Springfield Baptist pianist said that Black History Month is a time for remembrance and reflection. He said that memories of intolerance are still fresh in his mind.
"It means that there is a heritage of events that we must never forget, but we must do with love and not hate. So many things were not taught in history books. We almost believed we were inferior, and that's not the truth," he said.
But progress has been made, said Mr. Isom. And that's a good start.
"We've come a long way through the grace of God. We've been blessed," he said. "A lot of attitudes need to be changed, pointing towards the racial question. God loves us all."
1) Key 4 -- James Isom plays and sings during a December celebration at Springfield Baptist Church.