Interviewer: Madison Davis Lacy, Jr.
Production Team: A
Interview Date: December 14, 1989
Camera Rolls: 1137-1140
Sound Rolls: 163-164
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Frederica McDuffie, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 14, 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.
OK, we're rolling now, so I'm going to ask you, um, go back in time, and tell me, do you remember the first time, one, the first moment you met Arthur?
The first moment I met Arthur, there was a harmonious, deep feeling inside of me, and I said to myself, "Hey, I like this guy."
What was it about him that you liked?
The sweet look on his face that he had.
Where was it that you met him, and try and keep the story going.
I met him one afternoon, my mother had sent me to the store to buy a small can of peas, and on my way to the store, I'd seen this guy there, but I decided to continue to walk on, even though I know that deep inside there was that feeling in me that I wanted to talk with him. And I went in, I bought my can of peas for mom, and on my return back home, standing all alone, himself, on a corner, I said to myself, "I know the question is going to pop up." Truly and surely, he decided to walk along with me. And he said to me, "Hi." I said, "Hello." He said, "Where you going?" I said, "I'm on my way home now." He said, "May I walk with you?" I said, "Sure." So he said, "I like you." I said, "Really?" He said, "Yes, may I talk with you?" I said, "Not right now. I have to go now." So, he said, "May I have your number?" I said, "Well, yes." And I gave him my number, and he called me, and we talked over the phone for maybe about an hour or so, and just like I said, the question was popped, and he said to me, "Would you go with me?" My response, "Yes!"
We're gonna stop down for a second. That wasn't so bad.
Arthur was a warm and kind-hearted--
OK. He's ready. Go ahead, now.
Arthur was a warm and kind-hearted person. He was very joyous, joyful, loving, kind, he was just great, you know. Personality-wise was just sweet. Activities he participated in, in high school, he was a member of the marching band for Booker Washington, he was, um, on the swim team, which he won several first places, he was also president of the Booker T. Washington band, which I was also a part of that, you know, organization as well. So, he was just merely a, well, friendly guy.
OK, so now you-- Oh, stop there for a second.
Good. You're doing fine.
All right, now, you know, you're making Arthur sound like a saint.
Well, he was. He was a saint. As far as I'm concerned he was. He was my cherished, and I cherished my saint, because he was my love. My one and my only and my first love.
All right, now when did you two decide that maybe you'd get married? Tell me, describe how that happened.
Well, we decided to get married once we both finished high school, but at the meantime Arthur finished high school two years before I did. I finished, like, um, class of 1967. Arthur served three years in the service, Marines, so during the time that he was in the Marines, we kept communications through letters, and we prepared ourselves, you know, while he was in the service that we would get married once you, um, return home and out of the service. And he was discharged from the service in October 5th of 1968, and we married November the 2nd, 1968.
What was the wedding like? Tell me about it, describe, paint me a picture of your wedding day.
Oh, my wedding day was very exciting. I think we both were more anxious than ever. The night before the wedding, we, well, we rehearsal for the wedding and after the wedding rehearsal we were not allowed to see one another. And I think he was a little bit too excited to see me, so he decided that he would come over anyway to see me bef--the day of the wedding, and I was at my mother's house, and he had to bring over the corsage for my mom, and as he entered the door, he says, "Where's my wife?" And my mom said, "Not your wife yet." So he was trying to get back to see me, and everyone said, "No, you can't see the bride, you can't see her now until the time of the wedding." So I think it was quite exciting, you know, more excited to see me before the, you know, the final time of the wedding.
So, you, you waited for him while he was in the service.
I waited three years for him.
Were you ever anxious that he'd come back a different person than the one that, ah, that left you because of his worldliness, having been away in the service?
Not really, I don't--
Put it in a statement, "No, I wasn't worried he'd come back different."
No, I was not worried about him coming back differently because there was no way of saying that he was going to make any great change-over in three years period of time. I mean, strangely communication was even better away than it was when he was here, you know, during the years of our, you know, dating.
Did Arthur talk a lot about his service, that period he was in the service? What did he think about the war?
He talked about the service very little because I don't think he was quite, um, excited about making years of years of turn in there. He was mostly concerned of making a strong life on the outside once he completed the service. So, very little communication about his service term.
Did he ever describe to you what kind of a strong life he would like to make when he got out of the service? Tell me what he'd say.
What kind of a picture had he painted for you of the life that you would lead?
Strongly, the life that he painted for me was the life for, um, a marriage, um, the family life. He was a devoted man, he was a hard-working man, and most of all, a strong provider for the family.
Didn't he have any vice at all? Did he have any vices?
Oh, I can't think of any.
Well, if you can't, don't force it then. Let's stop for right now.
I try not to.
Now, what business did he go into when he got out of the service, and why?
Once he'd gotten out of the service, like I said, we've gotten married because, it was like a, maybe a month from the time he was out of the service. We lived in a small duplex, one bedroom, and he was not working, he was looking for a jo--employment, so, um, he always wanted something that was top-related. OK, and once he started looking for his employment, he was working as, um, Wells-Fargo, and I think, to my knowledge he worked there for three months and he felt as though it was dangerous. He didn't really like it too well. Then he decided that he would go into UPS service, driving trucks, and actually, he stated, he said it was too much hard work, long hours. And we were at home, and what happened was we didn't have no type of insurance, and the insurance salesman came around and he knocked on the door. And he was welcoming and he spoke with us about taking out insurance. In the meantime, we did accept taking out the insurance, and he also spoke with him about becoming insurance salesman. And he took upon that application of applying for the insurance salesman, and, um, he reached his goal, he's doing very well, and he'd strive on and strived on until he became supervisor and had several guys working up under his commands, and he enjoyed it.
OK, we've got roll out on this roll, this camera roll, so we're going to change it. You're fine.
--and trying, he never did?
No? He took everything in stride?
Everything was in stride. No conflicts. No, none at all.
Did he ever comment on the notion that, uh--
Did Arthur ever comment at all about justice and Black men and what, you know, how people sometimes say, "Oh, God, I'm Black and I'm a man in this society. I've got a hard road to hoe." Did he ever talk about anything like that?
As far as, as far as saying Black men's having it hard when, in life, ah, as we were growing up, we noticed that Black people were having it hard, from just normally making a life of living, so, um, so he always known that, um, it was hard for Black people because he was from Georgia, and back in those times, you'd know life was hard, living in, making it in Georgia. So those things, um, there[SIC] were, they were common for him.
Can you give me a brief idea as to, um, what drove you two to divorce one another? If you don't mind talking about that?
Well, we started having complications with our marriage. Arthur started de--started being a little bit more devoted to the outside world than he would be for home, and I'm the type of woman that will not tolerate it.
But, at one point you two had talked about getting back together, am I right?
We decided that we would remarry again in the event that we would make changes in both of our lives. Actually, there didn't have to be any changes in my life, but as far as his life, he had to make a great change. And Arthur decided to make that change. Arthur confessed. He confessed to me that he loved me more than he ever loved me. He felt as though he needed to make a change in his life, and he decided that that's what he wanted to do.
Now, do you remember, do you remember the days in December in 1979, before he went on his motorcycle ride. What did you think of him in that motorcycle?
Well, as, um, he was on a motorcycle, I really didn't know that Arthur was on a motorcycle, because Arthur was here, at my home. We went out to a Christmas party the night before he was on the motorcycle, and we arrived home pretty late, so we spent most of the nigh--we spent that particular night from the Christmas party, and after we, you know, awoke and had breakfast and everything, and had, you know, prepared dinner, he was going back to check on his house. And, he spoke with me that he will return to keep the kids, because I worked eleven to seven at night, and no Arthur showed up, so I decided that I had to make preparations to get the kids to be taken care of for that particular night.
Stop for a second. Stop down.
You were saying something about the, not, you looked up the next night and Arthur wasn't there. Start over at that point, keep the story going.
No, I said the, um, on my return, I had to go to work that night, and Arthur spoke with me that he was, he'll be back to keep the kids that particular night that I had to go to work, but he did not arrive. So I decided that I had to make preparations for the kids to be taken care of for that particular night that I had to work. I went to work, and the kids were with the babysitter, and while I was at work, which was two o'clock in the morning, I was in a patient's room, happened to be standing to the window, and I looked out and I seen an ambulance coming by, forwarding to the emergency room, and I said to myself, "Well, someone is coming in--"
Well, let me stop you right here, now, it's not clear that you worked in a hospital. I'm going to ask you to start over one more time, and let, let us know that, that you worked at an area hospital. So pick it up from the same point again, early on.
The very same hospital that Arthur was admitted to, you see, a hospital where I worked, which is Jackson Memorial Hospital, and, that particular time, like I said, that he arrived there, and I didn't know that, that was, that he was in the hospital that same night that I was working.
Let's stop down a second, I'm sorry. OK, I screwed that up for you, I'm s--
OK, start again.
The night that I had to go to work, Arthur didn't arrive home to keep the kids, so I made a decision to go ahead and take the kids to the babysitter so someone could keep them, while I was at work at Jackson Hospital, I walked into my patient's room, and I looked out the window, and I saw the ambulance coming across, and I said to myself, "Oh my gosh, someone is coming in," and this was two o'clock in the morning, not knowing, that at the same time, that it was Arthur coming in. Never did I think anymore about the patient, nor did I think of Arthur, I decided to continue my work on. I work until my regular shift change, which is 7:30 in the morning. I prepared my patients for the next morning. I clocked out which is my regular time of 7:30. Before I clocked out at 7:30, I call Arthur's home, and spoke with his baby sister, which stated to me that he was asleep. And I said to her, don't wake him up, I'll call at him when I arrive home. I clocked out my job, I return home, and instead of coming in directly as usual, like I usually do, or as I intended to do, I decided, my neighbor spoke with me that morning and held me up for maybe about an hour or an hour and a half talking. So I didn't get a chance to call him at home, because he usually leave between eight that morning, it took a while for his business. I came in late, change up, and I went back over to my mother, pick her up, and we decided that we'll go out Christmas shopping. As I return from Christmas shopping there was a note on my door stating to get in contact with the office immediately, signed Larry. Instead of calling the office, I decided that I would drive to Larry's house. At the moment that I arrived, Larry stepped out the door, and he stated to me, "Frederica, was Arthur on a motorcycle?" Or, he stated, "Does Arthur have a motorcycle?" And I said, "Yes," and I broke down. Larry walked me in and calmed me down and asked me to call the office, and I said, "Larry, what's the problem? What's the problem?" And he spoke to me that Duff was in a motorcycle accident. I said to him, "No, you're not telling me this." "Frederica, calm down." Excuse me. After I did calm myself down, I had to come back and pick up my kid from school, and as I walk in, the hospital called me, and the asked me several questions over the phone, and immediately they needed me to come to the hospital to identify his name. And I said, "What is the problem, what's wrong?" And as the doctor was speaking to me over the phone, they stated the several problems that was going on with him, and I said to him, "I'll be there as soon as possible." Instead, I called his oldest brother, and a moment, breaking down in tears, I asked, "Louis, did you hear about your brother?" He said, "Rica, calm down. They said that he was in a motorcycle accident." I say, "Who hit him on the motorcycle?" "No one hit him," as Louis stated, "he rammed himself into a wall." And it's just like saying, I feel a little better because I heard the word from the older brother. As my kid arrived from school, I drove to the hospital. I've gotten near him, They would not let me in to see him. I asked the doctor why. They said to me, "We're working on him. You will be able to see him in a couple of hours." There was four hours before I seen Arthur. When I did see Arthur, it was like, "No, this is not Arthur. This is not an accident."**
We have to stop right here.
Pick up the story from where you first seen Arthur.
When I went in to see Arthur, I said to myself, "No, this is not Arthur. This is not an accident."
Let's stop for a second, please.
All right, go back to the point where we were, the first time you saw Arthur.
The first time I seen Arthur in the hospital, I stated to myself that this is not Arthur, this is not an accident, as they said it was.
We've got to stop again.
Oh my God.
First time I saw him--
The first time I seen Os--Arthur in the hospital--
Try it one more time, you flubbed that.
The first time I seen Arthur in the hospital, I said to myself, "This is not Arthur. This was not an accident." Arthur's head was so swollen, there's no features in his face at all. Arthur's eyes were totally popped out. The neck was nowhere to be found on Arthur, I mean, it was just totally swollen all up. Arthur's body was more bruises and more scratches from the ground, was just totally all over his legs and his arms, and the total body movement was just, just a jerk movement. And I'm saying to myself, "No accident could look like this."
What happened next?
The doctors asked me to step out. I stepped out and spoke with the doctors, and I asked them, "What happened?" And he stated to me, "In the report that came along with him to the emergency room, that he was in an accident." And I asked him, "Doctor, what type of surgery did you perform on him?" The doctor said that we bolted, we had to go in and, his head, and put bolts in his head to release the pressure that was floating around the brains.
OK, now take me to the moment when you really find out what happened.
The moment I really found out what happened was that same night. A telephone call was made to one of the secretaries on the floor that he was placed on. I would say an anonymous phone call was made, and, in that phone call, it was stated, in the conversation was that he was beaten, Arthur was beaten. Who was the person that made that phone call? I don't know. From that point on, actually, I put pieces together by the bruises from his eyes, it shows all indications that he was beaten, actually beaten to death.
Let's stop down.
When did you hear that Arthur had died?
I heard he had died--no, what happened was that--when Arthur, Arthur, start over. I heard when he died the late, the early part of that evening. The hospital had called me, and asked me to come in, and, matter of fact, they asked all the family to come in, and as I arrived at the hospital, he was slowly deteriorating. He hadn't died exactly then, but he was slowly deteriorating. The nurse asked me, did I want to go in to see him, and I told her, "No." I left the hospital and drove back home, the hospital called me within an hour and a half and pronounced him dead, about twelve that afternoon.
OK, now, we'll jump ahead just a little bit to, it's the funeral. Your baby's dad, the man you loved, the man you told me earlier that you cherished, that's your one and only love. How did you feel, describe, paint a picture for me through your eyes. How'd you feel?
Once I've actually heard the actual word that he was dead and gone forever, my heart was broken. Torn apart. The only love, the first love, it's gone. No more. No return. Forever. Is away. From home.
Were you mad?
A bit hostile, because the truth wasn't out about his death.
Describe the funeral for me.
His funeral? Sad. The funeral was quite sad. To walk behind someone you really, deeply love, to sit and face someone you really, deeply cherished and spent moments and days of time with, it's just like saying everything, and all-and-all is, is out of me.
All right, how did you, what, feel about, when the, when the men were acquitted and the riot went down? What did you feel when, when they were acquitted and the riot happened? Tell me about your feelings in both of those instances.
When the policemans[SIC] were all acquitted, I felt fairly, they were unjust. No one served time. No one was charged, just truly and fairly, it was just, just unjust. It was an unjust feeling.
What about the riots. What did you think about that?
During the time of the riot, well, I was just arriving back from the trial, which was held in Tampa, um, I felt a little disappointed, no need to, but who am I to control someone else's feelings?
How would you like the world to remember Arthur McDuffie? I mean, tell me. You loved him, how would you like the world to remember him?
The world, I like for the world to remember him as the one and only lovable Arthur McDuffie.
OK, let's stop down.