The main quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League, Russell Wilson, is the great-grandson of a well-known Amsterdam man.
When people shopped downtown years ago and parking spaces were hard to find, a prime destination was the lot behind the East Main Street stores, on Federal Street between Church and Chuctanunda streets.
The proprietor was Harrison B. Wilson. Wilson and other members of his family kept watch on the cars from inside a small shed. He’d brush the snow off your car and back it out if necessary. The small parking lot seemed to house an improbable number of cars.
Wilson, an African-American, was born in Falmouth, Ky., where his father had been a slave owned by a Confederate colonel. The elder Wilson fought first for the Confederacy and then for the Union. Freed after the Civil War, he became a farmer.
Harrison Wilson came to Amsterdam in about 1910. He worked as a plasterer on construction projects, although racial discrimination kept him out of the plasterers union. Wilson later became a maintenance man for builder and landlord Thomas McGibbon. Wilson was credited with saving the lives of people trapped in a burning building owned by McGibbon in 1943. When McGibbon died later that year, he left the Federal Street parking lot to Wilson.
Wilson and his wife Marguerite raised eight children. Marguerite’s grandmother had taught at a one-room school in Kentucky. In Amsterdam, the Wilson family lived at various locations, including Cedar and Pine streets. Marguerite died in 1960, and Harrison, a trustee of the city’s A.M.E. Zion Church, died at age 94 in 1982. They are buried at Fairview Cemetery.
Three of their sons — Harrison Jr., Willis and Albert — played basketball for Amsterdam High School and in college. All of the Wilson children pursued careers in health care, industry and education.
Harrison Wilson Jr. was president of Norfolk State University in Virginia for 22 years. According to an article on Diverse, a higher education website, Harrison Jr.’s first job was shining shoes as a 7-year-old boy in Amsterdam. His mother, he said, told him about how he looked like his grandfather, and that instilled pride in the young man.
Harrison Jr.’s son, the late Harrison Wilson III, was an attorney who almost made it to professional football. Harrison III’s son Russell Wilson is pursuing an NFL career.
According to a story in the Seattle Times by reporter Bob Condotta, Wilson is seen as a football savant who lives the game 24 hours a day. He married his wife Ashton a few days after this year’s Super Bowl, just in case Seattle made it that far.
Condotta wrote, “Wilson’s emergence last year, from third-round pick to budding superstar, is a big reason the Seahawks are expected to make a long playoff run, especially if he can avoid a sophomore slump and build on where he left off in 2012.”
Condotta wrote that Wilson this year is the acknowledged leader of the entire team: “A year ago at this point, he was still locked in a quarterback battle.”
WEST END TOURS
Historic Amsterdam League is offering tours of the city’s West End today. Free tour buses will depart from the Century Club, 130 Guy Park Ave., rain or shine, starting at 10 a.m. Highlights will include the mansions on Guy Park Ave., St. Mary’s and City hospitals, the West End Memorial, Bowler’s Brewery, Guy Park Manor and the story of the extensive trolley system that used to serve the city. The residents at the former No. 5 fire station are opening up the first floor of their home for the tour.