Ben Franklin Stone of Luckey, Ohio, was of English and African-American descent.
Jeremy Wadsworth Enlarge
Black History Month took on a whole new meaning this year for Greg "Scott" Stone, a white man who lives in Tifton, Georgia, with his wife and daughter.
Mr. Stone, an evangelist at Southern Avenue Church of God in Tifton, recently discovered while researching his family tree that he has a Luckey, Ohio, ancestor with African-American blood.
That ancestor's name is Ben Franklin Stone, the brother of Mr. Stone's grandfather, Thomas A. Stone.
Ben Stone was an early-20th century sheriff's deputy and Luckey town marshal known for his marksmanship and carefree personality.
"I was naturally surprised when I found out, but as far as being offended or anything to that degree, no, I wasn't," Greg Stone said.
"I did question it just to make sure I was looking at the right records and for the right person."
Ben Stone's biracial makeup has been common knowledge in Luckey for decades, according to Sally Predmore, president of the Luckey Historical Society, which formed in September.
Mrs. Predmore said the society wants to restore the cabin Ben Stone once called home, which sits on Sugar Ridge Road just outside Luckey.
"He's like our greatest folk hero," she said. "We would like to move his cabin in town before it completely falls a part."
Ben Franklin Stone was born March 16, 1874, and was orphaned at age 7 when his mother died of unknown causes. When he was 10, he and his brother, Tom, then 7, were adopted by William Dunipace , an unmarried, white farmer, who owned 80 acres of farmland.
When he died in 1906, Mr. Dunipace left his land to Ben, then age 32.
Mrs. Predmore said Ben Stone was never much of a farmer, but during his youth, Mr. Dunipace taught him how to shoot a gun, a skill he would put to good use later on in life.
Records indicate that Thomas Stone eventually moved to Toledo, married, and had children while Ben continued to live just outside of Luckey, Mrs. Predmore said.
Former Luckey Mayor Harley Jacobs, 81, was only a child when Ben Stone walked the streets of the village, but he insists the man did not face discrimination.
"It's kind of odd, I know," he said. "It's not the typical script, but he grew up with the people here. People got to know him and he was very likeable. They trusted him."
Mr. Jacobs said Luckey at that time had no black citizens to his knowledge.
A 1970 Daily Sentinel Tribune article indicates, however, that Ben Stone's biracial heritage was the subject of ridicule among at least some people in Luckey.
"Ben also was the child of mixed Negro and white parentage and to the drugstore cowboys the brunt of all their jokes," stated the article.
Ben Stone would eventually sell part of the land he inherited, earning money only when he needed it working as a night watchman for business owners in Luckey until he was made a sheriff's deputy and town marshal.
"He would carry a flashlight in one hand and a shotgun in the other hand," Mrs. Predmore said. "Then he would carry at least one .45 pistol in his pants. He figured if somebody pulled that shotgun away from him, he still had a pistol in his pocket."
One of his eyes was knocked out one day while he was helping a business owner move a casket, but that didn't much affect his aim.
He didn't achieve legendary status until age 59, when he engaged bank robbers at the Luckey Exchange Bank.
When Glenn Saunders, 34, was confronted by Mr. Stone, the robber shot him three times in the leg. Mr. Stone, who had never shot anyone before, shot and killed the robber and has been regarded as a local hero ever since.
He served about 10 years as a sheriff's deputy after the foiled bank robbery, and died of heart disease in August, 1943.
Scott Stone started researching his family's heritage in March, 2005, after the untimely death of his brother, Roger, and plans a trip to Ohio in April to do some first-hand research.
"I just basically want to see Ben's house, see the orphanage where my father was raised [in Xenia, Ohio], and go through some records," he said.
He admits his research into his family's roots has given him a new outlook on the month set aside to honor African-Americans.
"Before to be honest, I didn't think much of Black History Month," he said. "I didn't have a problem with it or anything, I just never felt a connection, but now it has a whole new meaning to me."