“They know so little about you that they make big assumptions.”—Raejean Corliss
Bakman and I have been running buddies for four years. We became fast friends following the infamous Pullman State University Black student protest. We met when he dropped by the PSU Information Agency, the public relations department at the college, where I was the first part-time student employee. Bakman was assigned to shoot a special report about drugs on campus. PSU was chosen because it was in the heartland, a little more than a three-hour drive from Chicago. The university was conservative, depending on your political bent, to a fault. I had just gotten the job a month earlier and was still naïve enough to think it was okay to let it be known that there was a wild undercurrent at PSU. So when this young Black cameraman asked me where the real partying was going on, I was the campus crier. “By that, I take it you mean the grass, acid, ludes and other mind-altering treats?”
I began describing dealers and pinpointing places.
“Hold up. Let me tell you something, my brother. I’m righteous but you don’t know that. Just who are you sourcing out? The white boys or the brothers? Or are you riding a Zebra?” Bakman asked.
“I was hipping you to the happening,” I answered.
“You mean you were just giving it up, just like that?” he said, snapping his fingers. “Not knowing nothing about me and what I’m about?”
I replied I knew he was a brother. That he seemed cool to me.
“You know, that and a dime will get you your one phone call,” Bakman replied. “I could be The Man. I could be The Man’s boy. And you and all your little college cohorts could be in the joint just on what you’ve told me. But the reality is even worse. I am a media man. And what you’ve told me could be reported this way or that. Think about it. We are in an image war. Information can be confused, abused or misused.”
As it turned out, Bakman had just started as a cameraman for WATZ, the USBC-owned and operated television station in Chicago. At the time, I was living a double life. Besides being a part-time student-employee of the PSUIA’s News Center and a campus stringer for the Weekly News, the liberal international newsmagazine, I was a Black student activist. A Black Nationalist. A rebel with the cause. An angry young man ready to forge change or to die trying.
In the fall of ‘69, the Pullman State University administration announced its decision to cap the student population at 30,000 on the main campus. In an age of extremes, of black and white, that 10 percent planned reduction instantaneously provoked the leadership of PSU’s Black Student Union. The announced move was interpreted as a blatant attempt to limit the number of Black students on the idyllic downstate campus. Six months earlier, Black students at Cornell University showed up armed and dangerous at a campus protest. The students and their rifles were plastered on front pages and covers of newspapers and magazine all over the world and some of their demands were met.
Sam Williams, Pullman State’s BBMOC (Big Black Man on Campus), made the point. “Those brothers at Cornell weren’t playing. You know, they got down. They took care of business. Like, what we gone do? Be a bunch of mad-at-the-man crybabies or be for real. Take action. Make notice.”
“Right on, Sam the Jam,” several of the brothers cheered, referring to Williams’ a.k.a.
Sam was Pullman State’s starting center until it was discovered he was not only scoring on the opposing teams but with the coach’s 17-year-old daughter. Although Sam’s extra-curricular activity never advanced beyond the whisper stage, his star faded in a flash. He began spending as much time cooling his heels on hardwood benches as he did taking easy lay-ups on hardwood courts. Then it got worse. Sam was on his way to Coach Fort’s office, ready to deny that he had diddled the daughter, when he overheard the coach telling one of his assistants “if that dumb nigger so much as looks at my Krystal again, I’m having his black ass put under the jail.”
It was an open secret that Coach Fort wasn’t exactly wild about having Black players on his team to begin with. He was one of the last holdouts; preferring whites who might not be as talented but who were, by his reckoning, better team players. He was commonly quoted as believing that whites played better-organized ball. That Blacks suffered from the star syndrome--they wanted to solo and showboat. “I’m two seconds away from grabbing my Bowie knife and slicing that big, ugly, black ape’s balls off and stuffing them in his mealy mouth,” Coach Fort ranted.