Prologue 

 

The feeling permeated inside all of them and ate away at their very souls! That feeling was as strong as the acts of aggression that were going on just a few feet outside of the place that they all remained huddled in. It was not supposed to be like this; how could this happen? Even though this is something that they had all feared could, and would happen right along with every other American, no matter their ethnicity. The feeling that a gift, a savior, a messenger, or messiah had been taken away in the blink of an eye, on this day in 1968 was unbearable. But still, they all tried to remain calm and be rational.  

Not Don, “We should be out there!”

“For what?” replied Frank. “So, we can be ignorant right with them and risk our lives too, and the lives of our families? Anyway, what you gonna do if you go outside fool?”

Frank was always the cooler head in all situations, a 39-year-old black man, well educated. A bachelor’s degree in social science, married, one child on the way, and the head of the Civil Rights office in this small rural town a few miles south of Baltimore. Frank was always the one who tried to stop the fights, got people together. So, following in the massive footsteps of someone such as Dr. King was only natural for him. Frank always felt that he wanted to stand up for injustice and speak out against indifference but never did until being inspired by Dr. King. For Frank, trying to talk some sense into Don was natural, even though he was being torn apart inside just like the rest of the group.

As Frank reflected on his life and purpose, Don hastily replied, “Get some damn justice, that’s what!”

Frank just gazed at Don for a few seconds and then began to have a look around the room slowly to judge the expressions of everyone else in the room to see if he could tell if they felt the same way.

First was June. A smart, 24-year-old college student who faithfully worked at the office day in and day out, spending tireless hours organizing all the church visits, sit-ins, and demonstrations that took place in, and around town. Frank glanced next at Mary, the grandparent in the office. Mary’s face was still as stone for she had already lived through some of the worst of times, so this night only added to the pain that filled her heart. Mary only worked with the sole purpose of hope. Hope that someone or something could give everyone a fair shake at life and a chance to be able to live a good life. The blank stare on Mary’s face made it hard for Frank to continue to look at her or say anything without breaking down crying. The tear wells and marks on Mary’s face almost told the story of not only her life but the struggles of the entire African American race. As Frank turned to look at Reggie, all he saw was the frightened unsure young man that would probably go along with anything that the majority would do.

 “You damned fool! Don’t you get it? That’s what they want us to do!” Yelled Frank. As he continued to look back and forth at everyone. “What y’all think? We should do that. We should go and open these doors and let them fools come tear this place apart just like they tearing up the rest of the town?”

“But we should do something for justice! At least, for respect for all of us!” Shrieked Reggie who was sitting next to Don listening and buying into Don’s murmur of obscenities as Frank addressed the group.

Frank quickly replied, “If we can open these doors tomorrow and help rebuild this town, that would well honor everyone!”

As Frank continued to try and calm the group, the riots went on outside. The entire town burning and in peril, no one dared to throw an object at the window of the office or try to enter. Maybe it was because the group was huddled in the back with all the lights off and only the faint sound of the transistor radio replaying the same sad news over and over. Maybe it was the poster boards taped to the windows that graced Dr. King's face and excerpts from his speeches. Anyhow, the group was safe as long as they stayed in the office until the riots died down. Soon, all the discussion turned loud and was on the cusp of being an argument, with everyone crying and angry but knowing deep down, rioting wasn’t what Dr. King would want. Emotions ran over until the room was filled with shouting, and just as Don got up and started to move towards the front room of the office, the entire group was abruptly startled by the ringing of the phone in the front.

“Aw man, my heart almost jumped up out my chest,” said Don.

Everyone startled by the sudden phone ringing, and ringing, and ringing, and ringing while no one moved.

Still startled at how Don almost jumped out of his skin, Frank said to June. “Well, ain’t you gonna get that?”

June hopped up and quickly walked to the front room of the office and answered the phone. As she answered the phone and began to listen to the person on the other end, it was hard for her to try and pay attention.

This was because Don was standing right there bugging her. “Who is it? Is it about what happened? Who is it?”

“Everyone be Quiet!” June yelled out to the group.

Don could somewhat hear the voice on the other end of the line, and it was a woman, with an anxious sound, sort of loud, almost a yell.

Then June yelled out, “Oh my God! Frank! Frank! Get the phone! Hurry up!”

“What’s wrong?” Said Don as Frank rushed into the room to get to the phone.

As Frank listened to the person on the other end of the phone, his face became distressed and he started to look panicked and pale. He hung up the receiver and turned to walk back to the back room.

“You good Frank?” asked Don, and he repeated the question about 3 times before Frank said anything.

Frank had just got the news that his wife Anne had gone into labor, but he was not in a happy mood because the person on the other end of the phone was his wife’s sister Tricia. Tricia’s news was as devastating as the entire night itself! Tricia had just relayed to Frank that Anne was not doing well and there was a risk of losing the baby during labor. As Frank’s mind swirled, everyone around him was trying to get his attention. But it was too much for him. For this day to begin with the loss of such a great man! Now the possible loss of his firstborn was entirely overbearing. It is crazy that they always say that your life flashes in front of your eyes in the moment of death. Yet Frank; was experiencing something similar. As everyone was patting him on his shoulders, grabbing him, trying to get his attention; Frank mentally left the room and his body:

With a beautiful grin and brightness of her light brown eyes, Anne gazed into Frank's face as they twirled on the dancefloor clutching each other’s hands, moving to the soft song playing in the background.

“Don’t you just love this song baby?” Anne said softly to Frank as she rhythmically moved to the beat of the music and Frank’s lead on the dancefloor.

“Sweetie; I could dance with you all night long!” Frank readily replied to Anne’s gesture as they moved in closer to embrace during the slow dance. Just as Frank began to feel Anne’s breast press up against his chest…

Don snapped him out of his gaze trying to get his attention, “Hey! Hey! Hey Frank!”

Frank suddenly jolted back into reality and was back in the office in the room with everyone else. He began to speak slowly. “It’s Anne, It’s Anne and the baby! Don, let me use your car!”

“Is she okay?” said Mary.

No reply from Frank, just the repeat of; “Don, let me use your car, I got to get to the hospital.”

Don grabbed his keys and said, “Come on!”

But Frank said, “No, you need to stay here! We need all the men we can, to stay here and protect this place. I can make it, I’ll be fine.”

Don, of course in disagreement, replied quickly to Frank. “I’m coming man! You are in no mental state to drive brother!”

Frank snapped back at Don again; “I said I need you here man!”

Mary tried to intervene. “Frank, listen to Don. We will be okay here. We have Reggie too.”

Frank looked at Mary and replied as respectfully as he could. “Mary; no disrespect, but I need Don here! He is better served here with you all tonight! I said I’ll be fine!”

After a bit more back and forth within the group, everyone eventually gave into Frank’s will, as they usually do. Frank was their leader, so they would always listen to him in the end. One by one, everyone wished him a safe trip to the hospital as they gave in.

“Please call us as soon as you get to the hospital,” June said softly as Frank slid one arm into his leather jacket.

“Yes, let us know what’s going on up there Frank!” Mary said, as Frank completed dressing his jacket to his frame and grabbing Don’s car keys in one final motion before heading to the front door of the office.

Frank went to the front door and opened it slowly and slipped out the door trying not to fully open the door and draw attention to himself, for he didn’t want to put anyone inside at risk. As he walked cautiously to Don’s car, he passed people in the neighborhood who he talked with daily and they did not even notice him. These people were so full of rage that he did not look familiar to them. He saw police in the middle of the street hosing down people who were looting and rioting. He saw some police guarding some of the white-owned businesses while the black barbershops and hole in the walls were being ravaged. “My lord help us!” Frank said to himself as he approached Don’s car checking it out before trying to open the door. Everything looked clear so he got in and started to drive. Suddenly as he began to drive the caution left his mind and he thought about Anne and the baby and he became anxious again. He took off and began to speed down the avenue right past a group of police, but their hands were full already, so they paid him no mind. Frank soon came to a point in the center of town and he had to abruptly stop in the middle of the main street. He almost ran into a group of young men who were in a hurry and it looked like all of these boys had arms full of stolen merchandise and could barely run trying not to drop any of it. Disgusted, Frank threw the car into park, swung the door open and stuck one foot out to stand, and began to scream at the boys.

“Why not show some respect! That’s not helping the cause!”

One of the young men just turned to look at him but none of them stopped running. Frank slowly got back into the car and pulled off again and began to speed along. As Frank sped down the winding road; he kept veering in and out of his lane. He was mentally distracted by the situation. He was also trying to tune the radio with one hand and steer with the other. Fumbling with the radio dial, hoping to hear the magnitude of the night and the effect on his hometown. From one station to the next, all the broadcasts were focused on the assassination, the protests, and the rioting. One was still playing earlier broadcasts of the news that had broken earlier in the day. Just as Frank gave his full attention to guiding the vehicle; he noticed the gas hand on the car was just barely touching the “E”. Troubling was this because the hospital was clear across town; at least 12 more miles away. Frank knew he needed gas, but the town was a horror show. It would be next to impossible to get gas in this situation without running into some trouble, or police with bad intentions. As he weighed his options of trying to push it with hopes of not running out of gas; or thinking about where he could safely stop; Frank remembered the old gas station on Rooney street. Rooney was a long road with all houses, but a makeshift gas station built on a garage. Anthony’s garage. Yep, in the hood, Anthony had started out being the neighborhood mechanic, then kept adding things to his house and his garage, until he had a full-blown business established right in the center of the neighborhood, with nothing but houses surrounding his business. How convenient. How Anthony got away with this in Baltimore? In the ’60 s with no trouble from the police? No one knew. Whispers were that Anthony was moving heavy drugs out of that establishment for the Italian mob across town. Therefore, he had undisclosed police protection. Either way, Frank started to head over there to see if Anthony was open in the madness. Frank figured that everyone had left their neighborhood to go downtown to tear shit up. As Frank approached the dark residential block – low and behold, he saw the porch and garage light on at Anthony’s house. Boom! Once again Frank had the correct hunch.

He pulled up to the garage door and began to feverishly peck at the car horn with hopes Anthony would pop out as he usually does. Just as Frank turned his head to look back and forth from the front to the back of Anthony’s house; Frank heard sudden stuttering and banging. It was the engine struggling to continue to run due to the gas dissipating fast. Now Frank was getting extremely nervous. As he sat there, he contemplated turning off the car until he could confirm if Anthony was home. Yet he was also afraid to turn off the car, for fear of it not starting again. Frank started to survey the yard for gas cans to see if he could get lucky and get a few leftover drops in a can left behind from a car repair situation. Looking front to back; left to right at the yard, Frank was suddenly startled by a loud bang.

“Boom!” The loudest bang you could ever hear, and it was Anthony using both hands to pound on the trunk of the car that Frank was sitting in.

As he scurried to the driver-side window of the car where Frank sat, “Aye brother! What’s up with you?” Anthony yelled out to Frank to get his attention and pop Frank out of his trance of surveying the yard. “Franky!!” Anthony called out with a comical tone. “What is up with you my brother? You alright in this crazy shit out here tonight man? Ain’t nobody fucking with you? Are they?”

Question, after question from Anthony, hurled at Frank; before Frank could even get a chance to reply. Maybe it was just the heightened intensity of the night that had Anthony in such a series of moods. Defensive, inquisitive, and protective.

Finally, Frank was able to get a word in edgewise. “Hey brother.” I need a bump of gas partner. Trying to hurry up and get over to the hospital!”

“Whoa, whoa! Hospital?” Anthony replied with much surprise. “Somebody hit you?” Anthony said as he leaned into the car window with an inspectors-like look as if he would be able to examine Frank for any injuries. “You good?” Anthony continued with another question as he looked Frank up and down in his seat in the car.

“Nah man; I’m okay. Just about to run out of gas and won’t be able to make it over to the hospital.”

“Yeah man; who’s at the hospital?” Anthony replied with a question.

“It’s Anne man.” Frank came back with the answer with a half-angry/half concerned tone. “I gotta get over there now man. She’s in labor, and the Docs say it ain’t looking good.”

Anthony stepped back from the window in a little disbelief; “Ah shit my man! Let me take you over there, shit! Hop in my truck.”

Frank declined politely; “I got it. Appreciate it, but just need a bump of gas, if you can spare it? I left my wallet at the office rushing out to get to the hospital.”

“Aww shit my brother. You know I got you. I’m gonna top your tank off right now and get you on down the road. Give me a quick minute.”

After a few minutes, Anthony had filled the gas tank up as Frank anxiously waited for him to finish. Anthony gave the back of the trunk a quick two taps to give Frank the indication that he was good to go. As Anthony moved from behind the car, Frank threw the car in reverse to back out of Anthony’s driveway and began to back up. As he reversed past Anthony standing there; they both nodded at each other with a speechless acknowledgment that Frank had to go, and he was good. Anthony had helped his buddy out and knew Frank needed to get to his wife. With no hesitation, after backing out of the driveway; Frank scorched off onto the road to head back towards the hospital in a raging hurry.

Soon, Frank was driving down a dark road that ran up in between the town forest preserve. As he rounded a curve, he began to see lights in his rearview mirror and hear sirens, of course, it was the police. Frank pulled over to the side of the road and tried to remain calm. His gut for some reason was telling him not to stop because he was so worried about the baby and Anne. As anxious as he was, he stayed cool and waited for the officer to approach the car. As Frank looked in his rearview mirrors, he could see that two officers were coming, one on the right side of the car and the other coming up on the left. The officer on the driver's side tapped on the window and Frank slowly grabbed the handle to wind the window down, as not to show any sudden moves to startle the cops. It took a while because Don’s car was not one of the best; hell, it barely ran at times. Frank finally got the window down to hear the officer begin to question him.

“Are you in a hurry?”

“Yes Sir.” Replied Frank.

The officer looked up at the other officer on the left side of the car and said, “Oh we got us a smart one here!”

“No sir, I just need to get to…” Before Frank could finish explaining why he was in a hurry the officer came with a snapping reply.

“Did I tell you to speak boy?”

Frank tried to explain, “I just need to…”

But he was interrupted again, this time by the other police officer, “He’s gonna be some trouble.”

“Get the hell out of the car boy!” Yelled the officer standing right next to Frank's window, and as Frank reached for the door handle there was suddenly a loud bang and Frank slumped over onto the steering wheel.

In shock was the officer standing next to Frank's window; now with his uniform covered in blood from the bottom of his chest to his mid abdominal area; he hopped back and hollered, “Hey! What the hell did you do? What the fuck man! Are you fucking crazy?! What did you do?”

The second officer ran over to the driver's side of the car and grabbed the other officer by his shoulders and began to talk slowly to him with his face pressed close up against his ear. “Listen! It looked to me like that nigger was reaching for a weapon, that’s what I saw, you understand?”

The first officer was shaking and trembling in disbelief. You see this young man was somewhat new to the force and he only had intentions of searching the car because of what was going on that night, not killing an unarmed man. The first officer tried to get a grip on himself and started to speak.

“But there’s no gun! There is no gun!” He kneeled and eventually sat on the ground, leaned up against Don’s car, right under the back-passenger door behind the seat where Frank’s dead body laid slain.

The second officer replied, “Calm the fuck down! Now you just wait a minute! Think about it! We can push this car over there in that ditch, go get you cleaned up, and go back to our regular beat until the shift is over. By the time they find this dead motherfucker, so much would have happened in this town after tonight, it’ll look like a mystery. Hell, they might even call us to the scene when he’s found.”

The first officer, still extremely nervous and afraid, barely calmed a little and said. “Are…. Are you sure? That we won’t catch no heat for this?”

“Trust me!” Replied the second officer. “The way those niggers out here acting tonight, anything goes. Trust me! Now help me push this car in the ditch.”

The two officers proceeded to push the car into the ditch and hurried up and jumped in the squad car and raced off. The sad thing is that there was a strong to definite possibility that they could and would get away with such a heinous crime.