Jim S., Washington, D.C.
(p. 471 in 2nd edition, p. 483 in 3rd edition.)
They Lost Nearly All
“This physician, the originator of A.A’s first black group, but badly caught in the toils, tells of his release and of how freedom came as he worked among his own people.”
Jim was born in a small town in Virginia, the son of a country physician. They lived just a few doors from the First Baptist Church and as a small boy Jim would often ask when they had funerals whether the person was good or bad and whether they were going to heaven or hell. His mother, recently converted, was something of a religious fanatic. She was very Puritanical, did not allow card playing, although both parents drank moderately.
His father was from the South and had suffered a great deal there. He was a doctor and wanted to give his son the best, and nothing but being a doctor would suffice. Jim never thought he was as good a doctor as his father, whose medical ability was “a gift.” His father also had a mail order business since there was not much money in medicine at the time.
Jim attended elementary and high schools in Washington, D.C. and then attended Howard University. His internship was in Washington. Because of his mothers Puritanical training about sex, he married much younger than he might have otherwise. (His mother didn’t like his wife, Vi, in part because she had been married before.) They had three children. After they had their first child his parents became allies, but when Jim became an alcoholic they both turned against him.
Jim’s real trouble with alcohol began about 1935 during the Great Depression. He had lost practically all his property except the place they were living. He had to give up a lot of things to which he had been accustomed. His wife expressed concern about his drinking so he started lying about it and hiding bottles.
The in 1940 man whom he had known for years came to his office. He filled a prescription for the man’s wife while in a blackout. That frightened him and he talked to a psychiatrist about it, and a minister for whom he had a lot of respect. But nothing seemed to be the answer. He went to work for the Federal Government, while still maintaining evening office hours. Then he went to North Carolina because they told him the county he was going to was “dry.” He managed to stay sober there about six months. Vi had secured work with the government in Washington and did not move to North Carolina, as he had expected. So he started drinking again. His physical condition deteriorated (he had his first stomach hemorrhage), and he was in financial difficulties, having borrowed money and drunk it all up, so he decided to return to Washington.
His wife received him graciously, although she was living with the children in a one-room apartment. When he struck her with his fist, she got a court order against him and he went back to his mother. Things continued to get worse for Jim until one day, in a blackout, he stabbed Vi with a penknife. Vi testified that he was basically a fine fellow and a good husband, but that he drank too much. He was committed for thirty days observation. He moved around the country for a time after that but soon went back to Washington.
When repairing an electric outlet for a friend, to earn some drinking money, he met Ella G., whom he had known years before but didn’t recognize. Ella arranged for Jim to meet “Charlie G.” who became his sponsor. Charlie was a white man. The following Sunday he met with Ella, Charlie, and three or four others at Ella’s house. “That was the first meeting of a colored group in A.A.,” so far as Jim knew.
Soon Jim began looking for a place for them to hold meetings and was finally allowed to use a room at the YMCA at two dollars a night. In the beginning the meetings were often only Jim and Ella, but gradually the group began to grow. Charlie and many other white members of A.A. came to their meeting and taught them a great deal about how to hold meetings and about Twelve Step work. “Indeed,” wrote Jim, “without their help we couldn’t possibly have gone on. They saved us endless time and lost motion. And, not only that, but they gave us financial help. Even when we were paying that two dollars a night, they often paid it for us because our collection was so small.”
Jim was unemployed at the time and being supported by Vi. So he devoted all his time to the building of that group. Jim had found this new “something,” and wanted to give it to everybody who had a problem. “We didn’t save the world, but we did manage to help some individuals,” he wrote.
Jim spoke at the “God as We Understand Him” meeting held Sunday morning at the International Convention in St. Louis in 1955. Bill wrote in “A.A. Comes of Age”:
“Deep silence fell as Dr. Jim S., the A.A. speaker, told of his life experience and the serious drinking that led to the crises which had brought about his spiritual awakening. He re-enacted for us his own struggle to start the very first group among Negroes, his own people. Aided by a tireless and eager wife, he had turned his home into a combined hospital and A.A. meeting place, free to all. He told how early failure had finally been transformed under God’s grace into amazing success, we who listened realized that A.A., not only could cross seas and mountains and boundaries of language and nation but could surmount obstacles of race and creed as well.”