The Hanging of Tom Brown

A Civil Rights Odyssey

Prolog: The Last Survivor

During a trip from Knoxville to Miami my wife, Patricia, and I stopped off in Chattanooga to visit one of my oldest friends. Tom Crawford and I had met at the beginning of my seventh grade year. He was one year older, so I always called him “Big Brother.” On this bright summer morning in 2010, we sat in a restaurant near his home, the unappetizingly named “Aretha Frankenstein’s.”

Over breakfast, we talked of old friends. Like so many men of our advanced age, we listed the number and severity of our friends’ ever-increasing list of ailments. Most of the old crowd had retired, moved away, or passed on.

Then I asked about Billy. Tom’s face changed, He said, “Billy had a heart attack last year. He was still working as a minister. Martha said he went without warning.”

 The news hit me like a blow to the body. Tom looked at me and asked, “What’s the matter, Little Brother, are you sick?”

Tom and I had both known Billy since elementary school, but even Tom did not know about Billy’s and my four-year journey into the heart of the bigotry during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Nor did he know that we had been the only survivors of an eight-member team.

Billy and I had both kept that story hidden for almost forty-five years. Now I suddenly realized that I was the only one left alive. If I didn’t tell the story soon, there would be no one left to tell it.