Interviewer: Madison Davis Lacy, Jr.
Production Team: A
Interview Date: December 13, 1989
Camera Rolls: 1139-1140
Sound Rolls: 164
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Lonnie Lawrence, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 13, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
If you can segue into a description of what it was like--
--going out to a restaurant and not being able to--
All right. Tell me what it was like, they talked a lot about Overtown in the heyday, man, but tell me what it was like growing up in Overtown.
Let's start again?
They talk a lot about Overtown in its heyday. Tell me what it was like growing up there, man.
Well, I'll tell you, it was not compared to anything, I don't think, I think--
Start over again, try to give me a statement, you know, "Growing up in Overtown," you know, get Overtown in there.
OK. Growing up in Overtown was different from anything else that you could probably even imagine. And I guess because, you know, it was like family, you know, everybody was like family. There was so much togetherness, so much, um, everything there was like, was, was like, like close-knit**, you know, the schools, you know, you knew everybody, everybody did everything basically together, you know, running around the streets, you know, and, and enjoying all the little things that were associated with Overtown. You know, when you look at the fact that, that, um, what we called the shotgun shacks were, were important to us. And I think about Overtown now and, and the little shotgun shack I used to live in is I-95. I-95 went right, straight through it. And we call them shotgun shacks because, you know, they're wooden houses, but you could stand--
We gotta stop, we rolled out. We rolled out
All right, start again and tell me about shotgun shacks.
Well, you know, your shotgun shacks, you know, the reason they were called that was because you could stand outside a shotgun shack and, and really look right through because, you know, the, the, the, ah, the wood, you know, sort of sit up and you can see in the house from standing outside. And that's why they called them shotgun shacks, you know, anybody could take a shotgun and blow a hole in something and you can see right through it. And, um, you know, we had all kinds of little, little, little things over there, you know, and, um, one of the things that, ah, was Good Bread Alley, which was really lined with shotgun shacks. And most of them were smaller, you know, um, I lived in a two-story one, but when you looked at Good Bread Alley, people said, "Why do you call it Good Bread Alley?" Well, Good Bread Alley was called because it was good, ah, and it was the kind of place where everyone broke bread together, basically, and shared a lot, you know, there was a lot went on in there, um, and it was just a good feeling with people living and being in Good Bread Alley, and that's basically one of the reasons why it got its name as Good Bread Alley. You know, there's so many things that, you know, you can think about and talk about Overtown, you know, going back to, to, to, to the Orange Blossom Classic days when, when people used to step out, you know, I mean, you know, that was a time to get out the, the rabbits and, ah, and all those little fuzzy things and put around your neck to go to the Orange Blossom Classic Parade. Um--
OK, we've got roll out. Now we're starting on a full roll
Try to get an idea of the vitality of business life and, um, social life and, um, I need to hear you talk to me, tell me something about, and a story that illustrates a restaurant that you've been into.
Well, I think, a good, a good illustration would be, well, there were several restaurants over there, but, but, I think a good illustration would be, you look at, at how people, at how seriously they took that back in, in the Overtown days. I mean, it was serious business, you know, linen tablecloth on tables, linen napkins, I think about a place where I used to go in, and, I mean, you know, they were deck out, you know, nice little, White linen aprons they used to wear, they used to wear the little, little things on their, you know, sometimes you see them in movies, you know, people, and people don't realize it, actually, Overtown, they had places like that where people did that. They had a restaurant in the, um, in the, in the Sir John that actually had that kind of sit-down dinner, um, and people served, you know, and, and you got good service, you know, you didn't have to wor- you didn't eat out of paper plates, you ate out of china, ah, you didn't use plastic spoons and forks and knives, you used silverware, and it was that kind of thing over there, and, and, and it was, and it was really the kind of, of, of atmosphere that a lot of people miss now because we really don't have that kind of place.
All right, let's go on to school now, you, um, and, ah, you met Arthur McDuffie in, ah, in high school. Do you remember the moment you met him? How you guys became friends?
Well, well Art and I grew up basically a great deal in the same, in the same community, so w- we knew each other, we sort of hung out, and, um, you know, I, I, I can remember in, um, in elementary school, we went to several different schools, you know, one of those things where, where we went to Douglass Elementary, Phyllis Wheatley Elementary, and Dunbar Elementary, you know, it's kind of amazing to go to three separate elementary schools, you know, in your, in your lifetime, but we did and, and one of the things that happened at Douglass Elementary was that it was a wooden, a wooden building and they had to do some repairs because we had a big, old hole in the floor, so we had to transfer, half of us went to Phyllis Wheatley, half of us went to Dunbar, and, ah, you know, it just went on and on, and, when, I, I, Art and I, basically, were in school together throughout. He was a year behind me, um, and, um, we basically knew each other throughout school, you know, Art was a band member, played in the band, he was, he was, really, really, ah, really big on that because he, he enjoyed that kind of stuff.
Why did you like him?
I liked him because he was like a, a really, um, free-flowing guy. You know, his, he had the kind of personality that, that you could, you could, you could really like the guy. Straight-forward, stand-up guy, but, but really a kind of guy that you could really, really be friends with, you know, and, and helpful, you know, he, he befriended you, you know, and he wasn't the kind of guy that'd take advantage of you, you know, if, if, even if the opportunity existed, it wasn't that kind of a situation.
You guys hung out in high school. Did you ever go on double dates or anything like that? I remember you telling me something like--
Yeah, we, um, we, we went to the prom together, we were getting ready for the, the junior prom, and, and he went over with me and some other folk to get ready for the prom, and, um, and I had rented this car for the prom, and it was one of those push-button Plymouths, and we all sitting there, BSing in the car, after we had finished decorating the auditorium, Bay Front Park Auditorium, and I pushed a button on the car, well, the button I pushed was, was the forward instead of the reverse, you know, sitting there talking, and I wiped out, killed two parking meters and the police were sitting there watching us kill these two parking meters. Fortunate enough I didn't end up really getting in too much trouble about it, but, but, we were all, and we laughed about that, you know, constantly, you know, how I killed these parking meters, um, you know, it was really a trip.
Did you, did you, did he, you knew that he was dating Frederica, did you, all right, tell me, did he ever talk about Frederica, what did he say?
Yeah, you know, Art, they, they, had a real, a real thing going on and--
Try and put Frederica and Art in a sentence together, you know, "Art and Frederica had a real thing going on."
I think Art and Frederica had a, had a real, true romance going on long before they, they end up getting married. And I think a lot of us saw that, you know, they had their ups and downs, you know, they had their, their ins and outs, their splits and everything, but, but I think we all realized that, and we said it, you know, we'd say, "One day you guys gonna be together for ever," you know, and, and, and it did, it, it, it finally ended up where, where the two of them really got together, because they had that kind of relationship.
OK, now you left school and lost track of Art and then when do you re- hook up with him again?
Well, the strangest thing is that, ah, When I graduated from high school, I went to DC and worked up there for a year, and, ah, shit, lo and behold I went to the Marine Corps after being up there for a year, and who the hell do I see, you know, you know, I walk in the barracks and there he was. [And, I, I couldn't believe it, you know, because I hadn't seen or talked to him, or anything, for over a year, you know, after I got out of school. And, um, and we spent quite a bit of time together because we were basically in, in a platoon together throughout that particular training in the, in the Marine Corps. And we ended up, after our specialized training and everything, end up being assigned to a ship together. It was the strangest thing, you know, hadn't seen him for a year and end up in the service with him and serving, serving aboard a ship with him together.]** .
Now, when you were aboard this ship, what did you two guys, what, what, what kind of jobs did you have and what kind of a marine was Art McDuffie?
Well, Art was a, was, was a hell of a marine. He was truly a reflection, when you see that commercial about, you know, about this guy and the uniform, and, and, and carving out something that really, that's, that was Art. Art was really the kind of person that took a r- lot of pride in how he looked in that, in that Marine Corps uniform.** A true representative of, of, of what the Marine Corps stands for in terms of, in terms of that kind of pride and, and, and, um, you know, we were, for a while, that he was a, what, what we called a captain's orderly. And that means he was assigned to the commander of the ship as his, you know, some people call it the body guard or whatever, but he was there to, um, um, to deal with the, the captain. And he was assigned that particular task, you know, basically our duties aboard ships anyway was to run the brig and to be security for, for the ship and, and what have you, and--
OK, let's stop down now. Good.
Tell me, ah, the story about how, ah, Arthur was gigged once and was hurt by that.
Well, Art, um, we were standing inspection, of course we stand, stood inspection every day, and, and Art got gigged by the, ah, the sergeant who was inspecting us for a cable and, you know, it's like if you got a string hanging somewhere, that's what that's equivalent to, but he, he was so meticulous, you know, he, it bothered him because he took so much pride, you know, here's a guy who would sit and, and make sure his uniform was ready for the next day and put it out and sit and shine his shoes and shine up his brass and do all those kind of things, but, I mean, it really upset him, I mean, he was so hurt by it, and, um, to the point where, where he actually confronted the sergeant, not in a combative way, but say, "Gee whiz, you know, you know, one little, one little string you're going to gig me about?" But, but that was, that was Art, he felt strongly about it.
Did he ever talk to you about service, patriotism, why he was in the Marine Corps, you know, what kind of--?
Well, you know, we talked about, about staying in, and, um, the fact that he felt good about doing what he was doing, and I think we both did, um, felt very good about, you know, felt, serving our country as we, as we saw there was a need to do it. And I think we also felt, and I, I, I know we talked about it, in terms of character building, you know, we felt that we were better having been in the Marine Corps than, than we would have if we had not gone in. And we both discussed staying in, we were both approached about re-upping, and, you know, we, we, I think we both decided, "No, eh, you know, we don't want to re-up but, but we really feel good about having, having served this time."
So now you lose track of him again because he leaves the service, right?
Right. Actually, actually what happened was we went to, ah, I went down to, to Guantanamo Bay, and we, I think that was when we split up, when I went down to Guantanamo Bay because I believe he stayed in, in Virginia for a while instructing at one of the, one of the, ah, schools up there, and I lost track of him. Didn't see Art anymore, um, didn't really talk to him anymore, um, for quite a while. Then what happened was, later, I found out that Art was back home, you know, I came, I came to work for, for Metro-Dade on the police department, and, um, I ran into Art one day. And I said, "Geez," you know, you know, you know, "first of all, I miss him out of school, then I see him again in service, then I miss him for a while and then here, here he was." And at that point, you know, Art was saying, you know, "Well, I'm, I'm trying to get, um, get things squared away," you know, he, he was working then at a, as an insurance agent and doing some things, so he was developing his family and everything.
OK, we got roll out
OK, when you met up with him again--
Um, he, he told me that story--
Start, when I met up with him again--
When I met with, after, again, you know, after the separ--
Start one more time, we were talking over each other. Go ahead.
When I met up with Arthur again, you know, after our separation, we, we started talking. At that point I was with the, a police officer with Metro-Dade Police Department, and Art was saying that he was getting into doing insurance and selling insurance and everything, and we even discussed at that point, I said, you know, about him coming on the department. And he said, "Well, you know, I'll think about it. You know, I have an interest in it, but I need to talk with, with, with Frederica about it." And, and, and I don't think Frederica really wanted him to get into it. Because you gotta understand, you know, we talking about, you know, back in '68 and there were a lot of little things going on in terms of, particularly as it relates to Blacks on the police department. Blacks were, were, were being, um, being brought on to the department, but there was a lot of apprehension about Blacks being associated with police departments. So, you know, there was that part of, of what was going on, and, off and on, during that period of time, you know, we would see each other, talk to each other, um, not that much contact, because I think both of us were, were sort of, you know, doing our own things, in terms of families and, and whatever, so we didn't really have that much contact during that period of time.
OK, now, take me to the time, the point where you first learned, that meeting in your office when you first learned that Arthur had--
Yeah, well, I, at, I was in the public information office. I had, you know, gone through several assignments and at that point I was assigned to the, the public information office for the police department. And we were having a discussion relative to an incident that had occurred and a, where a Black motorcycle had been, been chased and subsequently allegedly beating, beaten to death or whatever by some of our o- police officers. I, the young lady who was handling the case from the internal review section, I asked her, I said, well, you know, "Who is this person that you're talking about?" You know, because I hadn't really heard anything about it. And she told me the name. And, um, I sort of just sit there. Um, because I thought, "Well, maybe it's somebody else." And, um, you know, it, it, um, when, when, when I finally realized that, that she was talking about the Arthur McDuffie that I knew, that I had grown up with, um, I just couldn't react to it. Um, and, um, I had to sort of get up and move around a little bit because it, it, it just didn't seem possible. Um, and then the more I found out about it, I guess the more it really bothered me. Um, but it was, it was difficult.
So what did you do next?
Well, I guess, you know, things began to start to happen. It began to draw a lot more publicity about what had happened, what had occurred, you know, because his death actually occurs sometime, occur--occurred after the actual beating occurred, um, I found myself in a very difficult situation because I, I found myself being an official spokesperson for the department, but trying to deal with a fact that here was a person who was a very good friend of mine, who I grew up with, who I knew very well, was the victim of, of this police brutality. It made it very difficult to, to, to balance that. And, to the point where I, I, I made some statements, um, speaking on behalf of the department and everything else, but I also made some statements to, to some folk relative to how I felt about what had occurred. It was very difficult, you know, real difficult because, you know, it, you know, and I guess people say, "Well, you know, you, you, you, you should, you should be oblivious to those kind of things," but, it's difficult to be oblivious to those kind of things, particularly when it's a person, someone that you know very well, and, and, and all things point to the fact that, um, there was something wrong done.
Dorothy Graham, yesterday, whom you know, basically said, "Black women are fools for having Black male babies because, you know, a Black man can't get justice in this country." What, what do you think about that statement?
Well, I, I think that, um, based on, on past history, there's a, the perception is that Black males just don't get justice. I think that, however, that, that, that, that we can control a lot more of that, in the sense that, more and more of us getting involved in, in what we're doing in the system that, that really handles that, will, will begin more and more to, to create the, the, the perception that there is fairness, and, and I think one of the things that just recently happened in terms of the, the trial shows that it, that it can happen. But I think overall, when you look back at history, Blacks who have been victims of, ah, and I say victims, of a system that basically speaking has, has not been blind, have not gotten fair deals. And I think that it, it takes a lot more involvement by those Black males, you know, I, I, I, I don't want us to lose sight of that, that I think it takes more involvement by Black males to make that system work the way it should work.
Stop down there. Good, very good. Excellent. I appreciate that.
Two minutes! Well--
We won't do another roll. We've got a couple minutes on this roll, um, ah, if you want to say, let's see, what can we talk about relative to how you felt and/or a story illustrating your perception around the time of the trial and the outcome of the trial because now we got, now we got, we got them indicted, they stand trial--
Why don't we get into something about his feelings about the community response to the acquittal?
Yeah, I think so. You were a police officer at that time, so--
Because, again, you must have been in a dual--
We have a, we have a, a, a clip of Amiri Baraka in, ah, one of our shows, I think it's show number six, and he talks about the White ghosts. You know, he says, "You know, in everything you do, you got this White ghost up there." He said, "If you do this, you do this, you do this, you don't get no money. And there's a White ghost sitting there." And you take it to
All right, Lonnie, give us your take, man, on the, ah, community's response to the acquittal of the, of the men who were accused of, ah, killing McDuffie.
Well, you know, I, I, I think our response, the, the response that the community had to the subsequent acquittal of those officers involved was, was shocking. I, I, I think the, and, and, and, not the community response, I should say, our response, we, we, we were surprised, we were stunned, we just knew that at least some of them would get convicted. I think the, the community's response was, was that they were outraged, and, and probably rightfully so. Um, you know, we had been doing some things to try bring this community together after this thing happened, and to have the system once again to, to say, "Well, we don't care," and that's basically what people felt, you know, that, that it was all right for these people to do what they did and not be punished for it, so to speak, um, I've never seen such a response so rapidly to such a situation. You know, I, um, I stood in my office window talking to my director at that point, because at that point I was, I was in charge of community affairs, community relations for, for the police department. I had just been a- just been appointed and promoted to that position, and I'm standing in my office window, and I look out the window, I'm talking to him on the phone, and I said to him, I said, "You're not going to believe this," I say, "But I have never in my life seen so many Black folk in one place than I see right now!" And he says, "What the hell are you talking about?" And I said, "It's about to hit the fan because they're marching down 14th Street." And just a flood of people were coming down and I, I, you know, you don't know what to do.
We're, we're roll out. Did we roll out--
I think we covered that too. Beautiful. I needed that story. Thank you brother. Thank you brother. OK, we're done.