Art books

Teacher, musician writes a book about family discord

John Samuel Graves III started his career as a teacher. Although he left this profession, he enjoys educating people about music, art and history.

Graves, 79, has created three websites – one about his music, writing and publishing projects, one about his family history, and one dedicated to his musical compositions. He also manages a digital newsletter for the Amateur Musicians League, a private group of around 20 musicians who alternate together for performances at members’ homes.

Graves, who lives in Little Rock with his wife, RS “Sandra” Perry, and their three dogs, graduated with a BA in English and High School from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 1966. He taught in Bentonville and Fayetteville, and later at a school for children with perceptual disabilities in Denver.

He left the field of education and got involved in carpentry, then house building, and worked his way up to running a roof and floor truss factory in Tucson, in Arizona.

“I have always had an interest in construction, even as a child,” he says. “I was picking up little sticks and things and trying to put things together. I remember my grandfather came once and made fun of me trying to build a little house with a few little sticks that I found. “

He spent a few years working for an architect, he says, and got involved in the design of custom homes. He did house design work for friends at Pine Bluff.

“I have a talent for mechanics,” he says. “I can fix or do a lot of things. Music is very similar. It has a lot to do with architecture, for example, and language.”

His mother, he says, wrote poetry. After his death he edited and published his work, setting some to music. He also collected and arranged musical compositions written by his cousin, Luke Peeples, who died in the 1980s.

Graves moved to Little Rock after retiring in 1996.

In 2010, he received a BA in Composition and Music Theory from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

He recently completed a 382-page book titled “The Testimony of Young Children, the Untold Story,” chronicling marital discord, divorce and the custody battle for his parents’ children.

“I was kidnapped by my father,” says Graves.

In the book, Graves cites affidavits from people who saw his father and another man snatch Graves and his twin and younger brothers as they came home from school in 1951.

“They twisted the arms of the two boys, dragged them to the taxi and threw them in the backseat,” it read. “They left as fast as they could because a crowd was gathering then and the boys were screaming and fighting to get out…”

Graves spent his first nine years in Bluffton, SC, a small town in the lowcountry area of ​​the state, before his mother left his father and took Graves and his brothers to Philadelphia, where his family lived. .

His father tried to visit the children in Philadelphia without telling their mother, but school officials turned him back.

“He had come all this way and hadn’t really had a visit with us,” Graves says. “So he came the second time, also without announcing it, and just took us like a boy from South South Carolina would when his wife disparaged him.”

As their parents and the courts dealt with custody issues, the boys reconnected with parents in Bluffton, where their great-grandfather had served as mayor. They fished, hunted, rode horses and swam and they took a trip to Hilton Head Island, SC

Graves says his father, who ran the family seafood business, had a few fatal flaws, the worst of which was alcohol consumption.

“It cost him everything he had,” says Graves. “My dad was out of control for a few years and we didn’t have much contact with him until probably the early years of college.”

Graves says writing the book was both therapeutic and traumatic.

“It brought back that awful sense of loss,” he says. “It turned out to be relatively unfavorable for my father and for both of us during our testimony… we had to answer these questions with our father standing there looking at us.”

The court records he sifted through to write his book have highlighted some of the cultural differences between the people of Philadelphia and Bluffton.

“My mother was a Yankee, my father was a southerner,” he says. “The judge who ultimately got the case in South Carolina made some terrible statements on race issues. One of the reasons he thought we should stay there is because we wouldn’t be going to them. integrated schools and that was one of the things the Pennsylvania judge jumped on. “

Graves’ mother eventually remarried and her husband was a physicist who took a job at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and moved the family to Arkansas. Graves’ father died while Graves was in college there.

In the afterword to his book, Graves wrote: “Even though my brothers and I never fully came to terms with what happened to us in 1951, we lived through the late 1970s and survived some of our own. own domestic disasters. “

If you know an interesting story about an Arkansan 70 or older, please call (501) 425-7228 or email:

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John Graves was born in Bluffton, SC, and spent his formative years in Philadelphia. He maintains websites about his music and writing projects, his family history, and poetic and musical compositions created by his late mother and a late cousin. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)


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