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Edwards' father was a supervisor in the Milliken & Co. His mother, Bobbie, raised three children -- Johnny, the oldest, his sister, Katherine, and brother, Wesley Blake -- but at various times she also folded sheets in a textile plant, sewed bathing suits, ran an antiques store in Robbins and worked as a rural letter carrier. "We lived a really, really sheltered existence," said Amie Ryan, a North Moore classmate.The social challenges of the era, like the sexual revolution and drug use, were slow to reach Robbins. But by the time he came to town at age 12, Johnny Edwards was sensitized to at least one social issue -- race.
Like the community's vestiges of segregation: the Robbins Record newspaper had a section devoted to "Colored News" when Edwards lived there.The younger Edwards watched his father look for any little edge to add to his education, even trying to study via public television. "They wouldn't give me an opportunity to advance for a long time," the 71-year-old says of his one-time Milliken bosses."He told me it made his heart break seeing his dad working on math problems with a high school teacher on PBS," said federal bankruptcy Judge J. "I worked for people I had to train." No such fate awaited Johnny Edwards.And, above all, he emphasizes civility, saying that voters are tired of partisan carping and yearn for a positive vision.These views put him decidedly in the middle of the Democratic spectrum, and his challenge is whether they also are in sync with a more left-leaning primary voter.It would be easy to dismiss such an approach from someone who hasn't lived in small-town Robbins for 35 years and whose personal fortune permits him to maintain three $1 million-plus homes.
But that might underestimate Edwards' powers as a persuader, the essential gift of a talented trial lawyer.
As Edwards relays it now, a teacher in Thomson, Ga., told Edwards and his 6th-grade classmates that he wouldn't be coming back the following year because schools were being integrated and -- employing a racist term -- he didn't want to teach black students.
Edwards said he remembers being struck by the venom of those remarks.
Tiger coaches passed on Edwards, handing him one of the few outward defeats of his life.
Edwards' mother, Bobbie, speculates that walking-on was more about her husband than her son.
And the unreliable foundation of the town's prosperity, textiles, was then as now under siege from overseas competitors.