Fred Stewart True Life Story: Klan

My name is Fred Stewart, This is a story about the time I was attacked by the leader of the KKK when I lived in New Albany Mississippi in 1976. This is a Facebook post. I share this story so people have a reference that victims of racism and white supremacist terrorist organizations are alive and well. This is one of the hundreds if not thousands of times I as a black man in America have had to face racism in all of its brutality. I am not different than most black Americans. We all have our stories. I hope you have a chance to listen to them someday. You should ask the black people in your life to share their stories and listen because they are always educational.

About six weeks before I moved to Portland. I played little league. I wasn’t very good at baseball. My younger brother, Tony, and I were literally the last two picked for the team. We lost most of our games that summer. We were dead last in the entire season. It was like something right out of the movie Bad News Bears.   The last game of the season we faced one of the best teams in the league and a contender for the play-offs.    We were one up and it was the bottom of the 9th.  Everyone in the league knew I wasn’t very good. But I’m out in the outfield at the bottom of the 9th and we were a point up. It was a classic two outs, and the bases were loaded.    The batter hit the ball in my direction and the sun was in my eyes and I just reached up, and just as the ball was going over the fence I caught it and we won the game. They lost, we won. The pitcher, we were told was the son of the leader of the Mississippi KKK  After the game this guy comes up to me, the pitcher’s father and he grabbed me by the chest and lifted me up the ground and started cussing me out. He was a tall guy, and I was eye to eye with him. He lifted me up and was screaming at me, right in my face, calling me Nigger this, and Nigger that.

He’s telling me I was gonna see my last day on earth soon. Here I was, just a little kid, and he was screaming at me at the tops of his lungs, letting me know I was about to die. He threatened to kill me. This was all over a baseball game. He told me I’d seen my last days on this planet. I still remember him and that day almost as if it was yesterday.   I remember the guy was about  as tall as my father who was 6 foot.  He wore a cowboy hat, a white button down shirt, blue jeans, and had boots on. He was a typical red neck white guy, and was at least in his late thirties or early forties, a very angry guy, scruffy beard and mustache. Black people were really pissed but so were the white people, and most important Mr. Parks was pissed. Everybody took that seriously.  Mr. Marks was the owner of Parks Auto.  A Chevrolet dealership in New Albany back then.

I could see my mother was in the outfield parking lot, where a lot of people like to watch the game. They were all out there. My mother, when she saw what went down, she knew who he was, because she was working as a dispatcher at the Union Country Sheriff’s Office. So she knew exactly who he was. My mother was trying to get over to us, but my uncle Earnest and some other people were holding her back. They didn’t mean to but they ended up ripping off her shirt off—my mother wanted to get a piece of that guy and she even lost both of her shoes getting away from everyone.    My mother came running and she jumped over the fence, meanwhile the guy is still yelling at me. Well, he heard my mother screaming at him and when he saw her, he just dropped me. My mother was screaming and cussing  running toward us topless and shoeless and mad as hell….LOL    As soon as he saw her, he dropped me like a rock.

That was a pretty impressive sight. A bunch of white people ran over and I heard people screaming at the guy. It was a big deal. It didn’t hit the papers but it was the talk of the town for a long time. Anyway, when things settled down a little Mr. Parks came over to my house. He was white, and he was the sponsor of the team and father of our couch. He came over to me, and  said: “Tomorrow we’re having a big bonfire, with marshmallows and lots of food, hotdogs, hamburgers and I want you to come. That man did something very bad to you today. But he’s gonna come to you tomorrow and he’s gonna apologize to you. He’s gonna reach out his hand to you, and shake your hand, and he’s gonna apologize and say he’s sorry. Can you shake his hand and accept his apology? Can you do that?” So, I told him, I could.

Then Mr. Parks says: “Now, remember he is your elder but I appreciate how you handled everything today. You were a good boy!” I could tell Mr. Parks was pissed. He was clearly shaken by what happened.   The party was a tradition with Mr. Parks and  my brother and I had planned on going anyway. The baseball team was an integrated team, too. We never had any problems at all, we always got along. We had a good time at this party. And sure enough the guy shows up and he comes up in front of everybody, and God, and friends and family were all there. There could easily have been over 100 people there, and right there in front of everyone he came up and he apologizes to me. And he reached out his hand for a handshake and I shook his hand. He said he was sorry and said I played a good game.

Later, Mr. Parks came up to me and he said: “Fred, thank you for doing that. You did a good thing. You’re a good boy. No one is ever going to bother you again like that. That was not a good thing. And that never should have happened to you.”

So, about four years later, when I’m about sixteen, I went back to visit my grandmother for Thanksgiving, and people were still taking about it. Several people came up to me and said: “Hey aren’t you the guy the clan was after?” What I found out later was that Mr. Parks was really pissed. He was either the head of the board of the local bank, or something else but he had a lot of power. And he was one of the richest guys in town. Basically he told the guy if he didn’t apologize to me in from of God and everybody, and if he didn’t make it right, he’d be sorry. He told him: “If you don’t apologize to that kid, you’ll never get another loan from anybody in this state again, period!” Mr. Parks tore this guy a new asshole. And the guy apologized. And the guy did exactly what Mr. Parks told him to do, in front of everyone, black and white. They all took it seriously. There were a lot of white people who were pissed—in southern fashion. At the time, they considered me a city boy, but Mr. Parks still made him apologize to me. And I remember the pitcher, who was the clan member’s son; he came up to me after his Dad yelled at me, and he shook my hand and congratulated me on the game, and said: Good game!”

Number one, I learned how important a community is and number two, I learned that not all white people are racist. There were just as many white people who were pissed off about that, as black people. And number three, I think the biggest thing I learned was that this was not the only time this was going to happen. I felt like it was just the beginning. I had heard all the stories that my family went through, stories of the Night Riders (The Klan), knocking on their doors, looking for people. Basically after you go through something like that, you’re always on guard after that. Some people call it getting “activated.” I think I got activated after that. I don’t think I was quite the same again; I was just always on guard after that. My uncle told me he was worried that was going to be the end of my childhood. That he didn’t want me to stop being a little boy.

And I remember both of my grandmothers had to kind of had to sit on my Dad, to keep him from coming down  to Mississippi from Milwaukee.  My maternal Grandmother  had to put a lot of effort into my father.   I was scared he would come down and get killed.  I think that was the first time I realized serious things were.   I went to bed that night with a lot on my mind.  I was worried about my mother and father. I was just 11 years old. . My Dad was pissed about that for years. I remember my grandmother yelling at him on the phone that night, and telling him that nothing was going to happen to “Freddie” and he needed to stay home. But I do remember years ago, I remember my mother saying that I was never quite the same after that.   How could anyone be.   Over the years I have had a lot of different emotions to what happened.  I have laughed, I have been angry.   I have  used it as a point of understanding of what others have a faced when it comes to fearing for ones life.   I think it could be one of the many reasons I hate bullies and violent people and have  always strived to be comfortable with violence.   I feel violent people are threats to the community.   Violent people are unavoidable and that they must be stood up to and defeated.   I am 55 and I am still trying to figure life out like everyone else.   One thing is for certain.  I learned a lot that day