John Clinton Lett Jr.’s legacy might be marked as Gulf Power’s first black lineworker but he’s remembered by his coworkers as being a hard worker — and one who never took off his hard hat.
“As we celebrate Black History Month at Gulf Power, we recognize the contributions that John made,” said Gordon Paulus, company spokesperson. “Providing a diverse workforce with employees of different races, gender and ethnicity is something we’ve been focused on for a long time.”
Lett, who died in 2005, was hired in 1964, the same year that the Civil Rights Act was adopted in the United States that ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Racial tensions were still high.
Yet his wife of 45 years, Mattie Lett, said her husband experienced few racial issues at Gulf Power.
Gulf Power sat down to talk to his wife, daughter and former coworkers to remember the legacy Lett left as a pioneer for diversity at Gulf Power.
“Everybody was nice but one guy who didn’t want to be trained under him,” she said. “But they later became best friends.”
Out in public places in Pensacola, however, there were racial tensions. When Lett would be called out to work after hours, some restaurants wouldn’t serve him during his dinner break. His daughter, Kay Ladd, said when that happened, the other lineworkers would take their dinner and join Lett in eating in their trucks.
Gulf Power management worked out an arrangement with some restaurants to allow Lett to eat dinner inside.
John Hodges, who was the Western Division manager at the time and later became a vice president, said Gulf Power would not have tolerated it if he had encountered any racial issues.
“John was respected for who he was; people didn’t view him by his race,” Hodges said. “He set the example for everyone else. I thought the world of John. He was a great guy.”
Outside of work, Ladd said her father was always involved in the community. He participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Pensacola. He would either drive the church van or his car with a bunch of children who would throw out beads and candy.
“He was always helping people,” she said. “He would pick up older ladies on Sunday in the van and take them to church. Then he would take some of them to get a meal for the day.”
Lett worked for Gulf Power for 32 years and loved to work hard.
“He was the happiest man in the world at Gulf Power,” Mattie Lett said. “He loved that bucket truck.”
Lett earned the nickname “Killer” because he didn’t goof around and expected the work to be done right. Working with electricity is dangerous and there is no margin for error.
“In the morning when we got our work order, John would put on his hard hat and he would keep it on all day long,” said Calvin Crenshaw, who works in the Training department and used to work with Lett. “John was an awesome guy to work with.”
Mattie Lett remembers people would come by the house when their power was turned off, trying to get him to turn the power back on.
“He’d say, ‘No, you got to go down and pay that bill’,’’ she said.
Ladd says her father always took an extra sandwich in case somebody didn’t bring their lunch, but, “I think he was eating that extra sandwich himself,” she laughed.
Lett was so respected by his coworkers that as a final tribute at his funeral, Gulf Power trucks lined up with their buckets raised to create a canopy for the hearse to drive through.
He is one of only three Gulf Power lineworkers who has received that honor.
“It was phenomenal to see him climb a pole,” Crenshaw said. “He would make it seem so effortless. He had a passion for line work. He lived it; he loved it.”