Sometimes I call my mother's house in Delmar, NY The Delmar Archive. This is the same house we moved to in the summer of 1975, the house where I lived from age 6 until I went to college. For the first five or six years after my father died it seemed like every time I went to Delmar for a visit there would be some new discovery—a photograph, a group of papers, a rolodex—that was yet another unimagined window into his past. The most amazing occasion of such findings was early on, probably in the first year after Dad died. Mom was concerned that we needed to start getting Dad's papers in order. She was particularly concerned about the file boxes in the basement. I went down into the basement and hauled up two cardboard file drawers that were bursting apart with their contents. I pulled them open or apart and in no particular order were early 1960s fliers for Civil Rights Movement rallies; a late 1950s photograph of Dad in a dressing room with Louis Armstrong (yes! Louis Armstrong) and Ethel Newton, Frankie's widow; Liberal Party of New York political platforms from assorted years (probably written by him); fliers for disarmament rallies; documents from the early 1970s campaign, led by Dad and George Hallet, to change the NYC School Board elections to a system of proportional representation; materials from havurah movement retreats from the late 70s and early 80s; a NYC white pages from 1974; autobiographical writings, and on and on and on. The items were not filed but stuffed into the file boxes, their importance to Dad or to history acknowledged and their existence largely forgotten.
At one time that photo of Dad with Louis and Ethel must have been a prized possession. After all, Paul Greenberg was the guy who almost never bragged about specific things he had done for the political movements he was so dedicated to, but who never missed an opportunity to tell you about which jazz musicians he'd known. A highlight of his trip to Israel with my mother in 1981 was that he walked into the lobby of one of the hotels they were staying in on their tour of the country and there was Diz, who looked up in Dad's direction and said, "Paul?" It had been decades since they'd crossed paths. There was the story of Jerry Newman's after hours recording of Frank and Art Tatum and how Dad came to work for Jerry and got his own copy of the recording. There were stories about Pee Wee Russell. Why hadn't I ever heard the one about how Dad met Louis Armstrong? Why Dad hadn't framed that photo or at least bragged that he'd once had it is an odd mystery to me.
The contents of those cardboard file drawers will be the basis for many blog entries, but so far the most remarkable story is about a six page typescript that I found in a thin manilla folder marked Civil Rights, six pages of legal size typing paper, watermarked "Executive Onion Skin" in large italics and "Rag Content" in smaller roman caps. The typescript was some kind of official deposition signed by Roosevelt Tatum on June 27, 1963 and notarized by a notary public in the District of Columbia.
Running down along the double red line that makes the left margin are alternating Q's and A's. On page 1, after some questions establishing Roosevelt Tatum's full name and age and place of residence and place of work:
Q. Do you go to church?
A. Yes, different churches.
Q. Are you a member of A. D. King's Church?
A. No. I am not a Baptist
A. D. King was MLK's brother, also a reverend. He lived in Birmingham and was active in the Civil Rights Movement there. When A. D. King and his wife Naomi came to NYC, probably later that summer of 1963, my father and my mother took them sight seeing around New York and its environs. Their rounds included a trip to Coney Island. King wanted to ride the Cyclone so the two couples got in line and boarded the famous ride. When it was all over, my mother and King both looked quite ill. Standing together back on the tarmac, King looked at my mother queasily and said, "that ride turned you black and me white."
On page 2 the questions and answers got more interesting:
Q. Sometime during the month of May did something happen to you that was unusual —never happened before?
A. The most unusual thing was being in the bombing.
I started reading more quickly. On page 3:
Q. How many people were in the car?
A. Two. They were wearing police uniforms —Light blue shirts an dark pants.
Q. Did you see anyone of these people do any thing?
A. The one on the right got out the car, walked behind the car, up to King's front porch, stooped over and lit a package on the right hand corner in some bushes. The one who laid the package ran back to the car. As they pulled off the driver threw another package across the sidewalk on the lawn and it went off. I got from behind the tree and ran toward the front porch. As I reached the lawn, the second bomb went off and knocked me back across the street, then I jumped up and ran to the back of the house. When I reached the back fence, Rev. King and his wife and three children were at the back fence trying to get over. I grabbed one of the children and helped Mrs. King across the fence and I went across the street. Police car #49 returned to the scene.
In the rest of Tatum's statement, he tells how on Sunday morning, May 12, 1963, the next day after the bombing, some members of the local FBI took a statement from him when they were looking house to house for witnesses. At that time, Tatum told the Federal agents that he was the first one on the scene and that he saw a black Corvette with two occupants driving away when he got there. He did not claim to have seen the occupants of the Corvette throw anything onto the Kings' property. Tatum then tells that on Saturday, June 22, he returned to A. D. and Naomi King's house to divulge what he actually saw on Saturday night, May 11. After telling this to King, Tatum made a second statement to the FBI, recanting his former testimony in favor of what he claimed he really saw. It is not clear to whom he is making the statement regarding the Birmingham policemen in the deposition. The questioner is not identified. (Roosevelt Tatum, Deposition. June 27, 1963. Estate of Paul Greenberg.)
What on earth was this document doing among my father's papers? My mother knew nothing about it. Peter, my parents' lawyer, didn't know anything about it either. That this was information about a bombing in which the Birmingham Police were implicated made me a little frantic. I wondered if Peter should hold onto the deposition, but in the end he didn't think it was necessary. We filed Tatum's deposition with the other Civil Rights Movement documents we were finding. I continued to wonder about the events I'd read about. I tried some internet research and some library research but could not find much more about Roosevelt Tatum. Soon my many FOIPA requests were underway. The notarized typescript from June 27, 1963 drifted out of mind.