28/7/1905 - 27/2/1956
Rajo raced at a time when the colored barrier existed but his talent and the respect he was shown him access to racing circles. And when Rajo raced he won, driving everything from stock cars to midgets, big cars and even motorcycles. Dewey Gatson died 65 years ago, he was 51
Thirty years before African American racer Wendell Scott was tearing up race tracks in the South, "Rajo Jack" was winning races up and down the West Coast. Rajo Jack was born Dewey Gatson on July 28, 1905 in Tyler, Texas. His father, Noah Gatson, and his mother Frances Scott lived most of their lives in the small town of Tyler. Dewey was the oldest of six children. Noah had steady work with the railroad and that alone may have kept the Gatson family in a slightly better state than the general poverty of blacks in Texas during that era.
Doc Marcell hired young Dewey Gatson as a roustabout for the Doc Marcell Medicine Show when he was 16. Dewey quickly proved himself as a talent with all things mechanical and especially anything with wheels and an engine. Dewey modified a truck into a mobile home for the traveling Marcell family, and kept the other cars, of which there were many, running well.
He was eventually in charge of the fleet of 20 vehicles that were part of the Medicine show "empire", in St. Johns, Oregon.
He became known as "Rajo Jack" because of the large number of "Rajo" High Performance engine kits that were made for the Model-T Ford that he sold. Dewey would soup up his own cars for better performance with a Rajo kit.
Rajo raced and won in everything he drove - stock cars, midgets, big cars and even motorcycles. He also did stunts on motorcycles and it was one of these stunts that resulted in an accident, which blinded him in one eye.
Rajo raced at a time when the colored barrier existed, but his talent and the respect he garnered among his peers allowed him access to racing circles in spite of his color. He is still remembered by everyone who knew him as a genuinely nice man and was undoubtedly one of the first African American race drivers in America.
Rajo sold auto parts and continued to race and work as a mechanic until his death on February 27, 1956. On his death certificate the name reads Rajo Jack. He is buried in the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Carson, California. Rajo Jack was one of the greatest black drivers of all time, but he is not remembered as a black race driver, rather as a talented race car driver.