This is a tough story to tell.
Remember back a few years ago to when Junior Byrd was chained behind a pickup truck and dragged to a horrible death outside Jasper, Texas. That man was the cousin of my friend, Bob Lee.
Bob is no stranger to violence. He's been stabbed repeatedly and left for dead. He's been jailed. He shot a burglar. God only knows what else.
Bob is a historical figure. When he was only 24, Bob was featured in a documentary called American Revolution II: The Battle for Chicago. He was an organizer for the Black Panthers. In the film, he is shown helping poor blacks -- and poor whites -- negotiate the government systems. Recently, his life was part of a new play.
Although there's been a lot of hurt in Bob's life, there has always been a lot of help, too. He evolved into a social worker for Ben Taub Hospital in Houston. Aids patients, his speciality. Poor people. Street people. Along the way, Bob became a free-lance writer and a researcher of black history. I would call him a renaissance man, if I knew how to spell it.
When news of Junior Byrd's murder reached Houston, Bobby jumped in his truck and drove to Jasper. Late one night, sitting alone in his motel room, Bobby began to doodle as his mind raced trying to make sense of something senseless. Later, no telling how much later, Bobby looked at his drawing and liked what he saw.
A primitive artist was born out of that tragedy. Bob printed hundreds, thousands of his drawing and gave stacks to ministers to distribute. It helped keep the fragile peace.
Many of the young men want to set fires in the piney woods forest and burn Jasper to the ground. But some how, some way the black community managed to hold on to what sanity was left. If my cousin had been dragged to death and be-headed, I don't know what I might have done. What incredible restraint. What inner strength.
But Bobby snapped from torment when the KKK was granted a parade permit. Not once, but twice! He got a nine-millimeter Glock pistol and picked out a corner where the parade would pass by.
(Bob was telling this story to a room filled with academics who had come to his art opening some time later in Houston.)
"I was going to kill everybody within 15 feet," he told the gathering of art patrons, art professors and sociologists from Rice University and the University of Houston. "But in my mind, I caught a vision of that man's face," he said, pointing to me in the back of the room. "And I can't kill George." It was a symbolic statement. I'm not a member of the Klan and I've never been to Jasper.
I gasped at the weight of his words. No man has ever paid me such a meaningful compliment.
I'll tell you more about Bobby Lee as we go along. He is my brother.