It was just another Thursday morning for Brennan Walker, a young black 14-year-old teenager from Michigan. Like many other teens his age, Brennan woke up late for school. He tried to make it to his bus on time, but unfortunately was too late and missed his ride. His mother had taken away his cell phone so he couldn't look up directions. Instead, he walked to the nearest home and knocked on the door to ask someone for help. Instead, he was confronted by a white woman who opened the door and accused him of trying to break in.
I was trying to explain to her that I was trying to get directions to Rochester High," Brennan told FOX 2 Detroit. "And she kept yelling at me. Then the guy came downstairs, and he grabbed the gun, I saw it and started to run. And that's when I heard the gunshot.
In 2016, Larnie Thomas was walking down the street of a predominately white neighborhood in Minnesota when a plain clothes police officer stopped him, questioned him, and grabbed him because Thomas didn't look like he belonged in the area.
People of color call this racist practice "Walking While Black." It can happen in any neighborhood, but for areas where white people are the majority, it's even more of a pressing issue. Just in the last few months there have been stories flooding the media about the police being called on black people who have been minding their business as they sat inside Starbucks, playing golf with friends, or were trying to workout at L.A. Fitness. Being suspicious of black people or attempting to put them in their place by calling the authorities is unfortunately apart of American history. During the centuries of slavery in the United States black people had to have paperwork before traveling anywhere without permission. In the post-Civil War era it didn't get much better.
It was during the Reconstruction Era in the late 1800s that thousands of towns and municipalities became "gray towns" or "sundown towns." Those neighborhoods operated with laws of segregation and discrimination against black people, including not allowing them to be anywhere in those areas after sundown. If caught by citizens or authorities after sunset, blacks were ridiculed, arrested, violated, attacked, abused, mutilated — and in the 1968 case of young Carol Jenkins, brutally murdered.
In September of 1968, Carol Jenkins was a 20-year-old woman earning a living by selling encyclopedias door-to-door. The Indiana native was dressed in her best business casual wear in a turtleneck and slacks, hoping to make a good impression on her boss by volunteering to cover a shift in the sundown town white neighborhood of Martinsville. Carol wasn't too worried about the racist ideologies of the area because she was working with another young black woman and two white, male coworkers. She felt as if she would be safe in a state where the history of the Ku Klux Klan was well-known.
She was wrong.
As she walked along by herself, a car with two white men began following her down the street. They yelled at her, catcalled her, and called her racist names. Feeling unsettled, she stopped at a nearby house of a white married couple, Don and Norma Neal, and told them about her harassers. They let her in and even called the police who found the two men in the car. Because they didn't physically assault Carol, they were free to go. Norma walked with Carol a few blocks around the neighborhood looking for the other workers but they were nowhere to be found. The men in the car were gone, and although it was offered to Carol for her to wait inside at the married couple's home, she declined and said she didn't want to be a bother. She thanked them for their hospitality and went on her way to catch up with her coworkers at their designated meeting point. She would be dead within the hour.
About 15 minutes later, the men in the car found Carol waiting. They jumped out of their vehicle and chased the young woman down the street. When they caught up to her they knocked her to the ground. One man held down her arms while the other took a screwdrivers and stabbed her straight into her heart. They then rushed back to their vehicle and drove off, leaving Carol to bleed to death. When it was publicly reported that the Neals did their best to help Carol, they received death threats for years.
You'd think that because the police, less than an hour prior, had already questioned the men that this would be an open and shut case. Nope. No one was arrested, and Carol went down in history to be just another woman killed by racist white men for being walking while black in a white neighborhood.
It wasn't until 33 years later when officers re-investigated the cold case after Carol's mother, Elizabeth, got an anonymous tip claiming that one of the murders was a 70-year-old man named Kenneth C. Richmond. Detectives interviewed Richmond's daughter, Shirley McQueen, who confirmed that her father, a longtime career criminal linked to the Ku Klux Klan, had detailed the murder to those closest to him.
"She got what she deserved," he reportedly said of Carol as he laughed about taking her young life.
Richmond, who was living in a nursing home at the time of his murderous revelation was brought to light, was declared by a court incompetent to go on to trial. Before justice was served, he died weeks later.
For those of you out there who truly, in your heart of hearts, believe that black people are over-exaggerating about racially-based harassment while participating in mundane, day-to-day activities, I subject to you the tragic story of Carol Jenkins. When you think that black people are being too sensitive to racial injustice, #SayHerName. As progressive as we've become, we have to remember that this 50-year old murder could have happened yesterday. There are other Carol Jenkins' out there, but we have to remember that, as Winston Churchill once said, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."
Last year, a memorial stone was placed in Martinsville's City Hall for Carol.