Friday, January 4, 2013


It was  1963  and I was a blur of energy because so much had happened to me in the last school year at Howard University: Kennedy and Krushchev had played nuclear stare down and everybody in D.C. had been locating their nearest bomb shelters one very long night back in the Fall right after I first arrived.   My first time alone out of town, and I had been all set to die (I was determined to die last, but, resigned to death, nevertheless). Fortunately, I had survived.

Less than a month later, I had stupidly stumbled on a Freedom ride bus following  Stokely Carmichael and my road dog, Tony Brown from Tulsa.  Almost got beat up/down, spit on, stomped, kicked and bloodied up chasing after white girls on that bus to Cambridge, MD.   I was scared to death to even tell My Daddy about that one.

Then, Drew Hall, my dorm, had gotten totally trashed one night, a crime I had nothing to do with but my friends did and the dorm director called me to his office and had me scared to death.  Threatened to take away my scholarship (which didn’t happen, then, but did by the end of the year when me and most of my friends had  gotten victimized by  wine and beer).  The classrooms seemed so boring when the whole world was roaring in the streets. I was gonna try, but I knew it was going to be hard to explain to My Daddy that  I had to save up enough money to go back to Howard, again.

Fortunately, I had, recently, used my political sense and confidence and walked in on Rep. Richard Bolling, boldly,  at the House of Representatives Office Building  without an appointment , then, asked him for a summer job.  He had acted, immediately, calling the Kansas City, MO main post office to secure me a cushy  job as a postman.

I had been working  for a few weeks before I was accused of stealing a letter filled w/cash and embarrassing the whole race by causing a huge racial brouhaha that was about to hit the papers. It would have shamed My Pops who worked for the local Negro Newspaper, “The Kansas City Call”. 

Being only 18,  I never quite understood what they were talking about but knew you couldn’t  talk back to white people, so, naively, I was preparing to merely get another government  job (I had tested at the top of all the lists) when the letter turned up, and all these white people were suddenly kissing my behind. Then, they gave me this  fabulous job  driving around all day with my friend Carlucci putting the first Mr. Zip Code stickers on mailboxes and laughing at white construction workers, stripped to the waist in the 100 degree heat, bathed in sweat, earning less than half of our $3.35 per hour wage.

“You’ve got the best hand”, we’d jibe them.

 “If I had your hand, see these 2 fingers here, I wouldn’t need ‘em; I’d cut ‘em off.”

“Yeh, you got the best hand;  you got it made in the shade. Oh, there is no shade… Guess you don’t have it made, then, huh.” And, we would laugh until we were gasping for air.

Ironically, they would smile at us, happy to engage us in repartee because we were obviously college boys just having fun, world at our fingertips.


That near debacle had turned out well, but I don’t know how I coulda faced My Daddy if the story about the stolen letter had come out in the Kansas City Star – setting  the  race back at least 10 years, proving that we weren’t  ready, yet. I probably would have died of shame if I’d  had to tell him that.

You would think that would have slowed me down, but it didn’t.
So, here I was laying up in a hospital bed stitched up in various places from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.  Trying to remember what happened after I climbed in the back seat of that beautiful Oldsmobile  convertible Crazy David Thompson had come by in.

‘Take a ride? Why not? I’d be less than a friend. .. Stop!  Let me out!’, I remember crying out just before we veered into the tree… ‘What the Hell will I tell My Daddy?’ Then, everything went bleary.

“Donnie, can you hear me. You seem like you can hear me.” I suddenly awoke from my coma and My Daddy was looking down, smiling at me. Tears rushed to my eyes; I was just glad to be alive, but I mumbled apologetically, “I tried to get him to let me out, Daddy.”

I had never seen My Daddy cry; he just wasn’t that kinda dude.  But, he took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes, then, quickly recovered and said,

“Take it easy, Donnie. You been in a coma for a month. Slow down, now.”

But, being who he was, Jack Baker, My Daddy, he could never miss a teaching moment,

“Next time throw your hat out the car, Donnie, and say, ‘Stop, Man!  Let me go get my hat. It just blew out the car!’     Even a fool will let you out to get a good hat.  Then run.”

The profundity of those words never escaped me and saved me many times over the years when I would be confronted with “impossible situations”.  I had learned to think fast because there is always a solution.

Nevertheless, since the car was stolen I had succeeded in setting the race back several years, anyway, when the picture of me bleeding in the street (having been thrown from my precarious perch on the back seat, over a tree) appeared on the front page of the Kansas City Star, proving without a doubt that

“we were not, yet, ready”.   

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