The phone kept ringing in wee hours of this summer morning in 1970. That is usually bad news – a phone ringing persistently in the night.
The old ladies – my great grand mother and aunt –paced through the house whispering in anxious tones.
Something was wrong.
I rolled out of bed and walked through the basement and climbed up the back stairs to my aunt’s second story flat. It was about 4 in the morning and a fresh pot of coffee brewed on the kitchen table. CKLW’s 20-20 news blasted on the radio.
This Canadian station updated breaking news every 20 minutes in the most sensationalized manner. The baritone pipes of Byron McGregor announced to the world that my father was murdered by a police officer on Detroit’s west side.
The radio seemed to move as the update blasted from within.
“A black male attempting to steal a car near Tireman on Detroit’s west side was met by an off duty undercover cop. The black man from Detroit turned to face a blue plate special and was filled with hot led.”
Hot led? Blue plate special?
That’s how I found out my father was murdered more than 50 years ago. He was 32 years old.
I write this today in the wake of the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis. Someone asked how many black males have been affected by the killing by a white police officer. I am one of those people.
Not only did the police murder my father, but lied about it.
I knew that details of the story were not true. My father did not attempt to steal a car because he lived under the same roof as I did as a child. The old ladies stabbed the fear of God into you so deeply that you were afraid to steal, even as an adult.
My aunt knew the story was bull shit also. She convinced a reporter from the black run newspaper, The Michigan Chronicle, to investigate. The newspaper found that dad was at a party and got into an argument with the police officer. They knew each other prior to the party and had a rocky relationship. Apparently this dude held a grudge because my father lived with a white woman named Sherry in Royal Oak.
The car my father “attempted to steal” was an off white Volkswagen Beetle, the same car he drove around town and often repaired with his own hands when it broke down. If he were attempting to steal a car why were keys to the vehicle in his hands?
The man that murdered my father was never charged but his justice came a year later. He attended another party, got drunk and fell asleep in the guest bedroom upstairs. He woke up early the next morning in a drunken stupor and stumbled down the stairs. The home owner thought he was an intruder and shot him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
This man robbed me of years of going to ball games with my dad, learning to repair cars and listening to old war stories. I do not know much about dad. He fought in the Korean War and was stationed at Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina, although the old ladies insisted the facility was in Missouri.
The old ladies spoke about him often. He was tall (6-foot-2), handsome and was quite the lady’s man. I have two half-brothers that I know of. Alec lives in the Detroit area while another boy grew up in Munich, Germany where my dad spent part of his military career.
I never got to know my father like other sons. He survived wars halfway around the world. But he could not survive Detroit. Within 16 months of him walking up the driveway onto our porch after being discharged from the Army, he was dead.
We did a few things together as father and son. But we never developed a strong bond.
As they closed his casket at the funeral home, the song “Close to You” by the Carpenters played. I began to feel guilty. I had yet to cry over my dad’s death. I forced a whimper and somehow got tears to stream down my eyes. They were forced.
My grandmother saw this and turned to console me.
“Poor thing,” she said. “He misses his father.”
Actually I didn’t. That was the problem.
The emotion of mourning my dad was taken away from me.
Find Terry Foster Podcast here: