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96-YEAR-OLD REGISTERS TO VOTE FOR FIRST TIME - SKEPTICALLY
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96-YEAR-OLD REGISTERS TO VOTE FOR FIRST TIME - SKEPTICALLY

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Fletcher ``Spark Plug' Joyce, 96, registered to vote for the first time Tuesday, even though he doubts he'll be allowed to cast a ballot.

``You can go down to register all you want to,' Joyce said. But ``if they don't like it, they'll throw it away.'So why did he register?

``I'm just interested in going down there now and seeing how far they'll let us go,' said Joyce, a World War I infantryman born to former slaves.

Joyce, though, liked the attention he attracted as he folded his 6-foot-3-inch frame into a chair at the Mayodan library and carefully wrote his name on the registration form. He signed up as a Democrat because ``Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Democrat.'

Joyce was persuaded to register by Mayodan Town Council candidate Bobby Tilley who faces the voters again Feb. 27 because the state Board of Elections ruled the Nov. 7 vote invalid. The ballots, the board said, were incorrectly printed.

Tilley met Joyce while attempting to persuade residents in Joyce's neighborhood to register.

Joyce was born Dec. 8, 1893, in a log cabin near Stuart, Va., the son of a farm worker and Primitive Baptist minister. He grew up working on farms in Stokes County and later held laborer jobs in sawmills, cotton mills, brick yards, West Virginia coal mines, railroads and a tobacco company.

``Didn't get but 9 cents an hour for my work,' he said. To help out, he made liquor and sold it for a dollar a gallon.

``It was good liquor, too,' he said. ``Every chance I got, I'd get out and make it.'

Joyce got his nickname because of his reputation as an ace mechanic. At one time, he owned an auto parts store in Reidsville. He loves to talk about his favorite car - an eye-catching 1930 Cadillac he bought at a good price from a wealthy railroad tycoon.

``I never had a dollar in the bank in my life,' he said. ``White folks took everything you made away from you and did what they pleased with it.'

Same with the vote, Joyce said. When he was young and wanted to vote, he wasn't allowed.

``They wanted to keep you behind with money and everything else just like they do now,' he said.

Later, when blacks finally could vote, he no longer cared, he said.

``You can vote now, but what count is it?,' Joyce said. ``My vote down there, they'll throw it out just as quick as they'll throw a piece of bread to a dog. They'll pay it no mind. Look what they did to Martin Luther King.'

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