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Remembering Jethro Mann, the Bicycle Man of Belmont

Feb 06, 2020 11:42AM

Belmont’s Jethro Mann achieved great fame but remained humble and caring his entire life. Photo courtesy Millican Pictorial Museum

Second in a series of  stories remembering important  African-Americans places and people  from our area.

By Alan Hodge

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Black History Month is upon us and there have been many local African-Americans who have left their mark on the local scene.- and one who made a national and international impact.

That individual was Belmont’s Jethro “Bicycle Man” Mann. Jethro may have died Nov. 11, 2013  in Florida at the age of 96 but his memory and influence lives on.

Mann was a long-time resident of the Reid community in Belmont where his garage was filled with bicycles he rebuilt and loaned or gave to local children.

Mann’s “Bicycle Lending Library” was featured on Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road” TV series. He was also featured in “Our State Magazine”, “Reader’s Digest”, and on the CBS Evening News. Mann received the Good Samaritan Award from “National Enquirer” for his work with needy kids. A German TV film crew also visited Mann for five days and filmed a documentary on his life and lore.

Here are a few of the other awards Mann received during his decades of service to others – Belmont Citizen of the Year, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Citizen of the Year, Special Volunteer for the State of North Carolina, the Good Neighbor Award from the National Council of Christians and Jews, City of Belmont Outstanding Community Service Award. Also, the N.C. Department of Labor Certificate of Appreciation Award, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Good Samaritan Award and Charlotte District A.M.E. Zion Outstanding Service to Youth Award.

A native of Curryville, Georgia, Mann was one of 12 children born to Jesse and Ida Mann. Early days at the public schools in Curryville gave Mann a thirst for knowledge that led him to an eclectic blend of institutions of higher learning. Just a few of the places Mann has cracked the books include the Palmer Memorial Institute, Lincoln Academy, West Virginia State College, Institute of West Virginia, International Correspondence School in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University.

A true patriot, Mann served two years in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and during that time he received the Company Honor Man Award.

Mann’s working career was long and productive. He was the first African-American in North Carolina to receive a general contractor license. In 1972, Mann became the first African-American Apprentice Representative to the N.C. State Department of Labor, passing on his expertise in the building trade,

Mann taught related subjects at schools in Cleveland, Gaston, and Lincoln counties. He taught construction and building at Central Piedmont Community College. Mann built many of the houses and even a movie theater in the Reid area. What made Mann all the more remarkable was the fact that he suffered from a crippling form of arthritis in his hands.

His love of sharing bikes with kids extended beyond the Belmont city limits. Mann once gave 65 bikes to the Boys and Girls Home at Lake Waccamaw.

In addition to his bike and building work, Mann also served as a minister at Hood Memorial AME Zion Church.

The Rev. Charles Reid was a lifelong friend of Mann.

“Rev. Jethro Mann will long be remembered by so many of us in Belmont and throughout,” said Reid. “When I think about Rev. Mann, having known him since I was a small boy growing up in Belmont; I would have to say ‘He was a Mann for all occasions’. I would like to think that he was to become such a strong man that God decided to add an extra “n” to ‘Mann’ to personify his life. Rev. Mann was gifted in so many ways i.e. construction/building manager; business entrepreneur; college teacher; minister; music soloist, church leader, and just a good mentor. Rev. Mann could communicate with a wide variety of people and, yet, maintain the ‘common touch’.”

The last couple of years before his passing saw Mann move from Belmont to Lakeland, Florida where he stayed near his daughters in an assisted living facility. He took his love of bikes with him and according to daughter Peggy Robinson had a couple of them in his room.