The Ugly – Red Dillard Morrison

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Ugly – Red Dillard Morrison

Red Dillard
Red Morrison

Once known as “The most dangerous man in the country” Red Dillard Morrison was born in 1919 in Alabama. He got his nickname “Red” after his hair turned red from a failed attempt at straightening his hair. He was violent as a child as he would beat up kids who bullied his friends.

In 1937, Morrison moved to New York City to move in with his mother. He hated the menial jobs he had to do help support the household. He started hanging out with hustlers his age and in bars learning from the leaders of gambling, prostitution, shoplifting, and narcotics. Morrison proved to be a natural leader and moved up the ranks by robbing craps players and numbers runners in Harlem.

Soon he was a gangster and his reputation as a violent man became known. Once he was shot in the leg, but made the assailants flee to their getaway car as he chased after them. He became the right hand man of “Big” Joe Richards, the undisputed boss of the seaboard negro rackets. Morrison was arrested for the first time in 1940 for third degree assault, but the charges were dropped because the victim refused to testify. This happened often with Morrison’s victims as part of his “reign of terror.”

Morrison split with Big Joe in the mid 1940s and starting running his own heroin and prostitution ring. His violent nature and ability to have charges against him dismissed made him come into the public eye. In 1950, his antics caught up to him as he was arrested and jailed for five years for possession and sale of narcotics.

One of the things that made Morrison popular, was his love for music. He used his money to help support musicians. He hung out with Thelonius Monk and Billy Daniels. He dated Etta James. He taught Miles Davis how to drive a stick shift.

In 1955, Morrison was released from prison and promised to go straight. By this time he was paralyzed in both legs from a prison fight and it seemed he was ready to go legit. He was offered a Cadillac El Dorado by the mafia for not snitching on them in prison. But he refused the gift. He wanted to get into real estate and open a cleaners. But as he was ready to throw aside his evil ways, his wife, Kathleen, died suddenly from an allergic reaction to penicillin.

Even though his often cheated on his wife, her death affected him in a bad way. Morrison started hanging out at the local hot spots and made cocaine his drug of choice. His behavior and violence became more erratic. He was in prison again for drug dealing and spent ten years behind bars. After prison, he moved to Los Angeles and began dealing drugs again and ended up back in prison in 1979.

He died in prison of bladder cancer in 1989.

 

Resources:

Greenburg, Zack O’Malley. (2011, June 9). The Musical Gangster: “Red” Dillard Morrison. Forbes. Retrieved February 18, 2017, http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2011/06/09/the-musical-gangster-red-dillard-morrison/#7806a44f6e74

Red Dillard Morrison. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 18, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Dillard_Morrison

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The Bad – Credonia Mwerind and Joseph Kibweteere

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Bad – Credonia Mwerind and Joseph Kibweteere

Credonia Mwerind and Joseph Kibweteere
Credonia Mwerind and Joseph Kibweteere

Credonia Mwerind and Joseph Kibweteere were founders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, a group that split from the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda.

The origins of Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God can be traced to Paulo Kashaku, the father of Mwerinde. He claimed his deceased daughter, Evangelista, came to him and said he would have visions of heaven. In 1988 Kashaku claimed he saw Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Joseph. Mwerinde also claimed to have visions and was involved in a Virgin Cult.

Kashaku had Mwerinde spread the message on the orders of the Virgin Mary. She did in 1989 and also met Kibweteere and told of her visions. Kibweteere claimed to also have had a vision five years before and not to be outdone, Mwerinde claimed to have had a vision in a cavern near his house. They had another vision and founded the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God to spread the Virgin Mary’s message about the apocalypse.

The group grew quickly and included defrocked priests and nuns. When Dominic Kataribabo, a respected and popular priest with a PhD from the United States, joined, the movement really started to gain popularity. In the late 1990s members were living in a community in pineapple and banana plantations. After selling their properties, members would pool their money in the commune. They built houses and a school.

Meanwhile Mwerinde claimed to have receive messages from the Virgin Mary through a hidden telephone system that communicated through everyday objects. The year 2000 was decided to be the date for the apocalypse.

In 1997, the group filed with the Ugandan government that it had 5,000 members, even though a previous government official warned about registering the cult. A year later the sect was closed for sanitary reasons, and claims of use of child labor and kidnapping. One former member escaped claiming some followers were buried alive, children were killed, married couples were denied sex, and there was starvation due to days of fasting.

The government then allowed the movement to reopen. And as the year of the apocalypse grew closer, the members began to prepare by selling all of their property.

When Jan. 1, 2000 came and nothing happened, the movement began to fall apart.

The movement began to lose income as donations dwindled. Some members began to rebel and demand their money back. Mwerinde and Kibweteere, seeing things falling apart, declared that March 17, 2000 was the actual end of the world date. They then had a huge party for the members where they roasted three bulls and drank 70 crates of soda. The leaders announced another party for March 18 as to throw off authorities as to their plans. Several days before March 17, 50 liters of sulfuric acid were purchased by Dominic Kataribabo.

On March 17, members arrived to pray and sing at their recently boarded up church in Kanangu. Soon after there was an explosion and the church was burning. All 530 in the church were killed. Four days after the fire, authorities found more bodies in the latrine of the Kanungu compound, a compound in Buhunage, at Dominic Kataribabo’s estate at Rugazi, and at lay leader Joseph Nymurinda’s farm. Forensics investigations indicated that they had been murdered weeks before the fire. Other than the fire victims, the majority of the other victims were poisoned. The final death toll from the cult was 778.

Due to the bodies at other sites, the church being boarded up, and the presence of incendiaries led police to believe the deaths were the result of mass murder and not a mass suicide. They theorized that the rebellion in the group from the misdated apocalypse led leaders to plan the murders.

At first it was believed Mwerinde and Kibweteere died in the fire. Now authorities think they are alive and an international warrant is out for their arrest.

 

Resources: 

Joseph Kibweteere. (n.d.). In Murderpedia. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from http://murderpedia.org/male.K/k/kibweteere.htm

Rumanzi,  Perez and Kembabazi, Emily. (2011, May, 28). 11 years after Kibwetere, sad memories still fresh. Daily Monitor. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from http://www.monitor.co.ug/SpecialReports/688342-1170390-9nhft5/index.html

The Good – Bessie Coleman

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Good – Bessie Coleman

The air is the only place free from prejudices. I knew we had no aviators, neither men nor women, and I knew the Race needed to be represented along this most important line, so I thought it my duty to risk my life to learn aviation. . .

– Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas on Jan. 26, 1892. She was the tenth of thirteen children to George Coleman, a sharecropper who was part Cherokee or Choctaw and African American and Susan who was African American. Coleman grew up in Waxahachie, Texas where she walked four miles to a segregated one-room school. She loved to read and was great at math.

When Coleman was nine, her father left to go to Oklahoma (Indian Territory) to find a better life. He was fed up with the the racial barriers in Texas. But his family stayed behind. Coleman completed school but wanted to learn more. At 18, she enrolled in the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University, but returned home after a term because her money ran out. She moved back home and worked as a laundress.

She moved to Chicago in 1916 to live with her brothers and worked as a manicurist. Pilots coming home from World War I would tell stories about flying and Coleman decided she wanted to be a pilot. She worked another job to save money for flight schools. But no school in the United States would take women, let alone African American students. The founder of the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, told her to study overseas and the paper also backed her financially.

In late 1920, Coleman went to Paris, France to learn to fly. She finished the ten-month course in seven months. On June 15, 1921 she became the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license. She continued learning from an ace pilot and returned home in September as a media sensation.

Commercial flight was not in existence at that time. Coleman decided that as a civilian aviator, she would have to be a barnstorming stunt flier. Despite her skills and popularity, no one in Chicago was willing to train her. So she headed back to Europe training in France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Once trained, she came back home.

Coleman, known as “Queen Bess,” became quite a sensation as a stunt flier. She performed all over the country, and refused to perform to segregated audiences. But even with this she wanted to “amount to something.” She worked in Orlando, Florida at a beauty shop she opened, hoping to raise money for her own plane. She was offered a role in a film produced by the African American Seminole Film Producing Company. She was hoping this film would advance her career and dream of opening her own flying school. But when the role had her wear tattered clothes and carry a pack on her back, she refused. She didn’t want to play the stereotypical African American.

On April 30, 1926 Coleman and her mechanic, William D. Willis, got into her recently purchased Curtiss JN-4 to prepare for an airshow where Coleman would do a parachute jump. She did not have her seatbelt on so she could examine the terrain for the next day’s jump. The plane went into a dive and spin and Coleman was thrown from the plane at 2,000 feet. She died instantly when she hit the ground. The plane hit the ground and exploded on impact. Willis was also killed. The plane was known to have mechanical issues, but a wrench used to repair the plane had jammed the controls.

Bessie Coleman was 34.

 

Resources:

Bessie Coleman. (n.d.). In Bessie Coleman. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://www.bessiecoleman.com/

Bessie Coleman. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bessie_Coleman

The Ugly – Guy Thomas Fisher

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Ugly – Guy Thomas Fisher

guyfisher
Guy Fisher

Guy Fisher was born in 1947 in the South Bronx, New York. The eldest of five children, Fisher grew up in the Patterson projects. His mother, with whom he was close, was a pediatric nurse while his father was addicted to alcohol and gambling. His father would physically abuse the family and abandoned them with Fisher was a teen.

Since his mother was working and his dad had left, Fisher took to the streets. His preference for street fighting led to him serving two years for assault at Elmyra Reformatory, Fisher then dropped out of high school and started hustling for money. He caught the eye of Nicky Barnes, a drug kingpin and soon was working for him in his underground organization. Fisher had a group of men who would distribute heroin to smaller dealers. After collecting the drug money, the group would then divide the profits. Soon Barnes and Fisher would invest in businesses together.

About a year later, Fisher was arrested for using a false driver’s license and bribing law enforcement. During the nine months he spent in jail, Barnes’ group was being watched by law enforcement. In 1977, Barnes and his men were placed on trial. Since most of the surveillance of the group happened while Fisher was in prison, he became the only member of Barnes’ group to escape sentencing.

This close call led Fisher to try to become a legitimate businessman. He bought the dilapidated Apollo Theater in Harlem. He placed the deed in his brother’s name and used local workers to restore the famous Apollo. When reopened, the theater hosted Gladys Knight and The Temptations. But the money made with heroin still called him.

Fisher continued Barnes’ operations but after Barnes learned of Fisher’s success and Fisher’s affairs with one of Barnes’ girlfriends, Barnes turned informant. In 1984, Fisher was convicted of conspiracy, drug trafficking, and murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Barnes was released into the Witness Protection Program.

Fisher is still in prison at Marion Federal Prison in Illinois but received a PhD in Sociology.

 

Resources:

Guy Fisher. (n.d.). In Mafia Wiki. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://mafia.wikia.com/wiki/Guy_Fisher

Guy Fisher. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fisher

Guy Fisher Biography. (n.d.) Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://www.biography.com/people/guy-fisher-495246

The Bad – Hulon Mitchell, Jr.

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Bad – Hulon Mitchell, Jr.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s talk murder!

 

yahweh000
Hulon Mitchell, Jr. AKA Yahweh ben Yahweh

Hulon Mitchell, Jr. was born Oct. 27, 1935 in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, the eldest of 15 children born to a Pentecostal minister and a church pianist. Mitchell lived in poverty growing up. He served in the Air Force for a while and then studied psychology at Phillips University. While participating in civil rights sit-ins in Oklahoma, he became interested in black nationalism and Nation of Islam, (where he was known as Hulon Shah). Later he preached as “Father Michel” in Atlanta and “Brother Love” in Orlando before finding his true cult identity.

 

In the late 1970s, Mitchell called himself “Yahweh ben Yahweh” meaning “the Lord Son of the Lord” and “The Original Jew.” As Yahweh ben Yahweh, he denounced Martin Luther King, Jr, as “that dead dog preacher.”

Mitchell formed the Nation of Yahweh in Liberty City, Florida in 1979. He was a charismatic speaker and well-liked in the Miami community. He gave the impression that he was a community builder by helping clean up neighborhoods. The mayor of Miami at the time declared Oct. 7, 1990 as “Yahweh ben Yahweh Day.”

But inside of the Nation of Yahweh, things were different.

Mitchell claimed he and his disciples were the true descendants of a long-lost tribe of Israel, that God was black and blacks would be powerful through him, whites – especially Jews – were infidels and oppressors, and members must be loyal to Mitchell. To become part of his inner circle, a “white devil” had to be killed and a body part had to be brought to Mitchell as proof of the murder. Between April and October 1996, Mitchell’s “Death Angels” went to Miami to kill white people.

Members of the Nation of Yahweh had all aspects of their lives controlled. Mitchell controlled the clothing and food of the members. He even controlled their sex lives. The twice married and divorced Mitchell had sex with many of the young, female members.

In the 1990s, the law caught up with Mitchell. He and several of his followers were indicted on 18 charges of racketeering, including 14 killings, two attempted killings, extortion and arson. He was released on parole on Sept. 26, 2001 after serving nine years of an 18 year sentence. As part of his parole, he could not connect with his congregation – including restrictions on phone, computer, radio, or television.

The once charismatic cult-leader died on May 7, 2007, alone after working as a landscaper.

 

References:

Schudel, Matt. (2007, May 10). Yahweh Ben Yahweh; Led Violent Cult. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/09/AR2007050902629.html 

Yahweh ben Yahweh. (n.d.). In Murderpedia. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from  http://murderpedia.org/male.Y/y/yahweh-ben-yahweh.htm

Yahweh ben Yahweh. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahweh_ben_Yahweh

 

The Good – Doris “Dorie” Miller

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Good – Doris “Dorie” Miller

Doris Miller with his Navy Cross
Doris Miller with his Navy Cross

Doris “Dorie” Miller was born in October 12, 1919 in Waco, Texas, the third of four sons. Miller worked on the family farm until 1939 when he decided to join the Navy. Since African Americans were not allowed combat positions, Miller became a Mess Attendant, Third Class. He was assigned to the ammunition ship Pyro, but was then transferred as the main cook on the West Virginia.

Miller woke up at 6 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941 and served mess. As he was dealing with laundry, the West Virginia came under attack by the Japanese. Miller ran to his battle station, only to find it had been destroyed. He reported for duty at Times Square, a central location on the ship. Noticing Miller’s physique at six feet, three inches tall, the ship’s communications officer had Miller help move the severely wounded captain to a safer location. Miller was then ordered to help load two unmanned machine guns. In the chaos, Miller, having never been trained on the guns, loaded the gun and began shooting. Once he was out of ammunition, Miller then was ordered to move the captain again to safety, but the captain still died. As the ship was still under attack, Miller moved injured soldiers through the oil and water “unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost.”

Originally newspapers reported on the heroic “Negro messman.” The African American newspaper, “The Pittsburgh Courier,” led the way to recognize Miller. On May 27, 1942, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, presented Miller with the Navy Cross. The citation reads as follows:

For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.

Miller later went on a war bond tour, encouraging people to buy the bonds. After his tour, he reported to the Liscome Bay for duty as a Petty Officer, Ship′s Cook Third Class. On Nov. 24, 1943, the ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo. Only 272 of the crew of 900 survived. Miller was not one of the survivors.

 

References:

Doris Miller. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doris_Miller 

Dorie Miller (1919-1943), Hero of World War II. (n.d.). In America Comes Alive. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from http://americacomesalive.com/2012/02/20/dorie-miller-1919-1943-hero-of-world-war-ii/

The Ugly – Raymond Washington

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Ugly – Raymond Washington

By State of California - Appears in the DVD Gangsta King: Raymond Lee Washington, ASIN: B00009V2K6. Originally a State of California mugshot in the public domain as a work of an employee of the State., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55374611
Raymond Washington, 1974 Police Mugshot

On Aug. 14, 1953, Raymond Lee Washington was born in Los Angeles, California. Raised by his mother and stepfather, Washington grew up on East 76th St.

Although he was a good football player, his grades were too low to be allowed to participate. He was expelled frequently from several schools.

In the late 1960s, the area where Washington lived became riddled with youth crime like violent street robberies. The Black Panther Party and the US Organization worked to put an end to the street gangs. New gangs formed in their place. Washington joined The Avenues but left after getting beaten up by the brother of a boy Washington had fought.

He started his own gang in South Central called the Baby Avenues which later changed its name to the Avenue Cribs. Washington had a thing for fist fighting. He was not a fan of guns and would rather use his hands in a fight. His reputation as a fighter caused fear among other gang members. But before the gang became violent they really just wanted to secure their neighborhood to prevent the dangerous gangs from coming in.

One of Washington’s fellow gang members walked with a limp and Washington’s older brother Reggie had bad ankles and walked bowlegged. They used to joke around and call each other “cripple.” A victim of the Avenue Cribs claimed one of the suspect was a “Crip,” short for cripple. So in 1969, the gang became known as the Crips and formed sets of their gangs in other areas. The Crips gang is now international, with a network of individual gangs known for its violence, murder, and drug dealing. Washington believed in robbery and fighting only when necessary – stealing food, clothes, and money to alleviate some of the poverty they faced. As new members joined, the gang began committing homicides.

When Washington was 21, he was arrested for second degree robbery and sentenced to five years at Deuel Vocational Institution. He started recruiting Crips much to the anger of the Black Muslims and the Black Guerrilla Family. In addition the Crips started murdering rival gang members – victims who were related to inmates at Deuel. They blamed Washington for the deaths and tried to kill him.

After his release from prison, Washington found that the Crips and their rival gang, the Bloods, had escalated to using guns instead of fists. He started to pull away from the gang, but decided to try to bring all the subsets of the gang under one roof. He wanted to unify the group and work toward a truce with the Bloods.

On Aug, 9, 1979, Washington was murdered in a drive-by shooting. Police knew that Washington never walked up to vehicles of people he didn’t know, but on this night, he walked up to a car after someone called for him. Knowing the occupants, Washington started talking to them when the passenger pulled out a sawed-off shotgun and shot Washington. He was rushed to the hospital while he died during surgery.
References:

Raymond Washington. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 9, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Washington

Valdemar, Richard. (2007, May 9). The Dawn of the Crips. Police Magazine. Retrieved February 9, 2017, from http://www.policemag.com/blog/gangs/story/2007/05/the-dawn-of-the-crips.aspx.

The Bad – Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Bad – Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton

This one is interesting to me because I work with contractors and local government. I understand zoning laws and know that many people will skirt the codes if they can get away with it.

Cookie Thornton
Cookie Thornton

Cookie Thornton, a resident of St. Louis County, Missouri, was born on Dec. 23, 1955, one of nine children, He grew up in unincorporated Meacham Park, a tight-knit black community which was sliding into decay.

Thornton graduated from Northeast Missouri State University and stayed in Meacham Park, starting his asphalt and demolition business. He parked his equipment in this parents’ lot and took care of his neighbor’s driveways for free.

In 1991, the more prosperous and white area of Kirkwood voted to annex Meacham Park and Thornton was thrilled. It would benefit his neighborhood and bring him more business. He became involved with the Kirkwood housing authority board, worked with kids at a youth club, read to children, and ran for city council (he lost).

Thornton benefited from the development as his company received contracts. Two-thirds of Meacham Park was to be razed for big-box development, including Section 8 housing. Thornton praised the Lord for the proposal. However, the mayor at the time, Marge Schramm said there were never any promises to Thornton. The developers had the final decision on who to hire. There were even reports that Thornton never bid on the contracts.

In addition to losing the contract, Thornton started getting ticketed for parking his equipment in residential areas and dumping debris on vacant lots. Thornton pleaded guilty to some of the violations and promised to bring his property to code within two years. He promised to pay the fines, but never did and filed for bankruptcy in late 1999. As part of the process of getting out of debt, he would pay $4,425 a month for five years. But he stopped making the payments within months and moved his business from a commercial zoned area back to the residential area.

Thornton started going to city council meetings alleging racism. His friends and family thought he was just mad about the fines. But it was more than that. He had power of attorney over his parents’ finances. Because of this, he was able to take his parents’ properties, their house in Meacham Park and their retirement home in St. Petersburg, Florida, and refinanced them. HIs dump trucks had been repossessed and the IRS took out two liens against him for more than $200,000. He owed over $10,000 in child support.

But Thornton kept smiling and telling those close to him that everything was just fine.

Even the city tried to help him but offering to erase all his fines if he would just be less confrontational with them. He refused – demanding to see them in court. He would sue the city and lose.

On Feb. 7, 2008, Thornton went to his friend Chuck Runnels’ home. He gave Runnels some money and photos from a civic group they started. Runnels though Thornton was going out of town, so he didn’t bother asking why. They had dinner together and watched NFL highlights. As he got up to leave, Thornton said “Glory be to God” and left for the city council meeting.

Thornton parked near Kirkwood City Hall and saw police officer Sergeant William Biggs walking to get dinner. He confronted Biggs and shot him with a .44 magnum revolver, killing Biggs instantly. As Thornton fired, the officer was able to hit a distress signal on his radio. Thornton then took Bigg’s .40 caliber handgun and went into the council chambers. The meeting had just started and concealing his weapons, got close to his victims.

First to be killed in the chambers was police officer Tom Ballman. Thornton continued shooting others at close range while saying “Shoot the mayor.” He fatally shot council members Connie Karr and Michael Lynch, and Ken Yost, the public works director. Mayor Mike Swoboda was shot twice in the head. Thinking he was dead, Thornton went after the city’s attorney, John Hessel. Hessel threw chairs at him and was able to escape. Two police officers arrived at the council chambers and were fired upon by Thornton. Returning fire, they shot Thornton twice and he died.

Five people were killed and two were wounded. The mayor was taken to the hospital in critical condition. He returned to city hall on April 18 for his last council meeting since his term was expiring. He later died on Sept. 6 in hospice care. He had cancer and his health declined quickly after the shooting.

Thornton left a note on his bed saying  The truth will come out in the end” or “The truth will win out in the end.”

 

References:

Cooperman, Jeannette. (2008, April 24). The Kirkwood Shootings: Why Did Cookie Thornton Kill? St. Louis Magazine. Retrieved February 9, 2017, from https://www.stlmag.com/Why-Did-Cookie-Thornton-Kill/

Deere, Stephen and Moore, Doug.  (2008, May 4). Charles Lee ‘Cookie’ Thornton: Behind the smile. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved February 9, 2017, from http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/charles-lee-cookie-thornton-behind-the-smile/article_be96f13c-78b9-11df-bfdc-0017a4a78c22.html

Kirkwood City Council shooting. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 9, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirkwood_City_Council_shooting

The Good – Matt Baker

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Good – Matt Baker

Matt Baker
Matt Baker

Another North Carolinian, Matt Baker was born in Forsyth County on Dec. 10, 1921. His family later moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and after graduating high school, he moved to Washington, DC to work for the government. The United States entered World War II, but Baker could not join the military due to a heart ailment, so he decided to go to school. An avid drawer, Baker moved to New York City to study art at the Cooper Union School of Engineering, Art, and Design.

In 1944, Baker started working at the S.M. Igor Studio as a background artist. His first work was as a penciller and inker for the woman in “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.” Baker worked for several comic publishers but he did not receive credit. However, during this era of the Golden Age of Comic Books, he was known as the best “Good Girl” artist as he was great at drawing the female form.

phantom_lady_17Baker was mostly known for “Phantom Lady.” “Phantom Lady” originated in 1941 but came across Baker’s desk in 1947. He changed the look by putting the character in blue short-shorts with slits up the sides, a matching halter top, a belt in front, and a dramatically plunging neckline along with a scarlet cape.

In addition to “Phantom Lady” baker also worked on “Canteen Kate,” “Tales of The Mysterious Traveler,” “Tiger Girl,” “Flamingo,” “South Sea Girl,” “Glory Forbes,” “Kayo Kirby,” “Risks Unlimited,” and more.

Not much was known about Baker’s personal life. Some thought he was a ladies man while others thought he was a homosexual. He was well dressed, drove around in a yellow, convertible Oldsmobile, but also worked for days without sleeping. In 1957, Baker had a stroke and died on Aug. 11, 1959 from a heart attack at the age of 37.

Baker was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009.

 

References:

Chamberlain, Gaius (2016,January 14). Matt Baker. Great Black Heroes. Retrieved February 8, 2017, from http://www.greatblackheroes.com/entertainment/matt-baker/  

 

Matt Baker (artist). (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 8, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Baker_(artist)

The Ugly – Frank Lucas

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Ugly – Frank Lucas

What is it with kids from North Carolina moving to Harlem for a better life?

Lucas' January 1975 federal mug shot.
Lucas’ January 1975 federal mug shot.

Frank Lucas was born in La Grange, North Carolina on Sept. 9, 1930. Much of the story of his upbringing is part of the myth Lucas claimed for himself. He claimed he turned to crime after the Ku Klux Klan murdered his 12-year-old cousin for ogling a white woman.

Lucas’ family was very poor – the Great Depression was still going on. He stole food for his family or mug drunks outside the local bar. In 1946, he worked as a truck driver, but was caught having sex with the boss’ daughter. Lucas hit his boss on the head with a pipe, stole $400 from the company, and set the place on fire. His mother told him to go to New York to avoid prosecution.

In Harlem, Lucas was a hustler and claimed to have been taken under the wing of Bumpy Johnson (see post on Stephanie Saint-Clair). How close the two were is questionable, but Lucas learned from Johnson and after Johnson died in 1968, Lucas took control of Harlem.

Starting with breaking the monopoly the Italian Mafia had on the heroin trade, Lucas traveled to Bangkok to go directly to the source of the drug. There he met up with Leslie “Ike” Atkinson, the husband of one of Lucas’ cousins. Atkinson ran Jack’s American Bar and also supplied drugs to American soldiers. Wanting to see how the drug trade worked, the two traveled through the jungles of Thailand and met with Atkinson’s business partner, Luetchi Rubiwat. Rubiwat controlled hundreds of acres of poppy fields located next to caves where the poppies were turned into heroin. On this trip, Lucas bought 132 kilos of heroin for $4,200 per unit – the Italian Mafia would have charged $50,00 for a kilo in Harlem.

Lucas and Atkinson formed an international distribution system which included enlisted men, and even high-ranking American and South Vietnamese officers. The heroin would usually be packed in furniture and then shipped to military bases on the east coast of the United States. The heroin would then be unpacked and prepped for sale. Being extremely careful, Lucas used only close friends and relatives from North Carolina. His five younger brothers worked with him and they became known as the “Country Boys.” He also had a few New York City cops on his payroll too.

Because he had nearly pure heroin shipped, he was able to cut the drug at a higher level, about twice what was available on the street. He hired women to cut the heroin with mannite and quinine – and to prevent theft, these women wore only plastic gloves. And Lucas was not above inflicting pain on anyone who stood in his way.

Lucas claimed to make a million dollars a day. He would launder the money, but also invest in legitimate businesses, including a ranch in North Carolina where he raised Black Angus cattle.

In the early 1970s, New York City’s police corruption became well known. A new investigative narcotics unit was formed called the Special Narcotics Task Force (SNTF). On Jan. 28, 1975, Lucas’ home in Teaneck, New Jersey was raided. They recovered $584,000, keys to Cayman Island safe deposit boxes, deeds, and 10 people were arrested – but Lucas was not.

But he was not free for long. Lucas’ nephew spilled the beans while being interrogated. He gave the names of those involved,and locations of buys and public phones used to make the deals. While on trial, witnessed testified about Lucas’ “Blue Magic” brand of heroin. It was stronger than most street heroin and led to overdose deaths. Special prosecutor Richard “Richie” Roberts said Lucas “killed more black people than the KKK with the sale of Blue Magic.”

Facing a sentence of 70 years in prison, Lucas turned informant giving up the names of Italian Mafia and police accomplices, and even giving up Atkinson. So much for family loyalty. As a result, Lucas was sentenced to 15 years and was out in 1981. He was arrested again in 1984 on another drug charge, but this time was defended by now private defense attorney Roberts – even though Lucas once ordered a $100,000 contract on Roberts’ life. Lucas received a sentence of seven years and was released in 1991. Wanting to turn straight, he worked with Roberts and their relationship grew such that Roberts became the godfather of Lucas’ son.  

After prison, Lucas returned to Harlem. He noted the misery of the neighborhood, mostly caused from his work as a dealer. Lucas started working on repairing the community and working with his daughter in her organization, Yellow Brick Roads, which works with children whose parents are incarcerated.

 

References:

Biography.com Editors. (n.d.). Frank Lucas Biography. Biography.com. Retrieved February 7, 2017, from http://www.biography.com/people/frank-lucas-253710
Frank Lucas (drug dealer). (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 7, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Lucas_(drug_dealer)