PAST MEETS FUTURE
How does the grandchild of a slave become an entrepreneur? It starts with a vision and a belief in what’s possible in America. Manuel Bickley’s innovative spirit helped him reach his goal at a time when so many others could not. His innovative spirit has been passed down through the generations to his great-granddaughter, Kendra Alexander. Manuel Bickley’s innovative thinking is the building blocks of Bickley Innovations.
FROM VISION TO REALITY
Bickley was born in a little town in Alabama called Tallassee. His birth in 1888 came during a major transition period for America. Just 23 years earlier people of African descent lived in captivity. His post slavery generation was adjusting to their new status as citizens. Manuel was a day laborer by the age of 12 but aspired for something greater. He eventually married Lizzie Graham, had 3 children and became a sharecropper. At the time, sharecropping was a respectable goal to reach for someone born into his circumstance. But how can anyone feel a true sense of pride to rent a parcel of farm land on the same plantation where your own grandparents were held captive years before? Seeking financing for his sharecropping business gave Manuel the opportunity to build a relationship with the local bank owner. That relationship would prove to be the catalyst that transformed Manuel’s vision into reality.
Financial backing from the bank and a drive to excel propelled Manuel from being a sharecropper to being a land owning farmer. By 1908 his fiscal life was prospering but his personal life was headed for a tragic turn. Un-expectantly windowed at the age of 20, he needed to manage a farm with three young children. Fortunately he met and married a lovely lady named Lula. The new family of five continued to leverage the bank’s financial backing to grow the family business. This was challenging to do in light of the Jim Crow laws that passed during the late 1800’s. These laws required separate public facilities for white and black people. The intent was “separate but equal” but typically resulted in African Americans experiencing inferior and unfunded circumstances. Despite the situation, Manuel Bickley became a successful farmer. He expanded beyond farming to start a logging company that removed trees from his land. He started a trucking company to transport those logs across the region. His truck company grew into a bus company that transported children to school for the county. The endpoint of his vision was not just personal gain. It included helping others as he had been helped. This led him to give loans to African-Americans that could not get the same financial backing that he received. He also built a baseball field for the African-American people that legally could not play at the white's only local field.