In the first week of June 1966, Stokely Carmichael was in Memphis. Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and a veteran of the civil-rights trenches, he had been arrested repeatedly since 1961’s Freedom Rides. At 24, he was becoming frustrated with the pace of change, doubtful it could be achieved without violence. In the first week of June 1966, Stokely Carmichael was days away from breaking with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., days away from raising his fist as he emerged yet again from prison in Greenwood, Mississippi, and making his famous speech advocating “Black Power.”
In the first week of June 1966, in Memphis, I was a high-school cheerleader.
On a trip to Maine, my wife and I saw more dead animals than live ones. I became morbidly fascinated by them. That smudge on the road was amphibian, I would think, his cold humor drawn to the stone warmth of highway on a passionate night. Overturned, an ottoman would aim its wooden legs like this dead possum. The immigrant coyote? A wild rug flung on the carpeted ditch. And all those raccoons, their comic bandit role forgotten in these deathbed scenes.
One freezing Monday in January, I stopped at the big box pet emporium to buy my dogs their kibble and treats. As I stepped out of the car I saw a white mutt standing about thirty feet away, surveying the parking lot with that mixture of confidence and wariness that is the hallmark of long-term strays. I called him. As I expected, he acknowledged me but kept his distance. Dogs that are newly lost will either come straight to you or run away in a panic. This guy was clearly hardcore homeless.