By Storyteller Michael McCarty
While in high school, Michael and some classmates make demands of his school to include more Black History in the curricula. The students hold a walkout and Michael is expelled. Decades later as an adult, Michael is brought back to the school to receive his high school diploma and the school’s gratitude.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Vindication
- What were the motivations for the school walkout?
- What inspired Greg Meyers, who hadn’t had any contact with McCarty or Tyler for decades, to create a movement to get St. Ignatius High School to apologize and give them their diplomas?
- Was the walkout the best way to get the school to listen? Was making their point and getting expelled worth the victory McCarty and Tyler experienced years later?
- Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin
- African American/Black History
- Education and Life Lessons
- European American/Whites
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
- Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
I had done just what my mother had taught me to do but she wouldn’t feel it this night. My mother had always told me it was important for you to stand up for what you believe in- if you saw something wrong you were supposed to do something about it if you could.
I came home on a February night in 1969 to find my mother sitting with my brother and sister being consoled as she watched me leading a walkout at Setting Nations College Prep- now she knew there would be consequences. I’ve done what she taught me to do It was 1969 black student organization with popping up all over the world especially and we want to think like black studies program saying this was a predominantly white school in a black community. We wanted outreach to the community we wanted more black students in in the school these are the kinds of things that my mother had taught me to do but she wasn’t feeling this night now.
There were things that prompted this; there were two major incidents that prompted my awareness of what was going on one happened when I was in the Boy Scouts. Three friends of mine and I decided that we wanted to get our cycling merit badges so one Saturday morning in the summer, I was about 12 years old, we decided to ride our bikes to Crestwood, Illinois and beyond and that would give us enough miles to get our cycling merit badges. So we set out riding, riding, riding, we rode all the way out to Crestwood, Illinois and beyond- turned around and came back. On our way back there was a water fountain across from a Little League field where there was a game in progress. One by one we stopped at the water fountain, I was the last one and I’m there trying to guzzle up all the water in the world. All of a sudden I became aware of my friends they are yelling and pointing and yelling and pointing and then I became aware of the signs behind me and I turn around the Little League game had stopped the stands and the fields had emptied and these parents, mothers and fathers, were running after me with baseball bats and bricks and who knows what. And I’ll never forget the image of the white woman with glasses running and cursing and calling me names well I saw what’s going on and I was gone and I rose, quickly caught up with my friends and passed them and we road on. Once we were out of danger we laughed about it and went about our businesses and I don’t think any of us told our parents what had happened because that’s the way things were.
But the incident was more prominent than that was more stimulating happened in my sophomore year at St. Ignatius. A buddy of mine and I had gone to a party- well we were trying to go to a party- over by Dunbar High School. We walked into this high-rise building, turned the corner where we thought the elevator was going to be it was a dead end. We turned around and there was this gang. They proceeded to kick our butts for what seemed like forever and at one point the guys who were beating me up I guess he wanted some fresh air and kicked me out into the street and they literally beat me until they got tired. The last guy grabbed me by the head, put a gun to me in my head, and said “I’m going to kill you nigger!” And pull the trigger just as he pulled the trigger this girl who I considered to this day and angel snatched nis hand away “Don’t do it Johnny you’ll get in trouble!” So he pistol whipped me in that time that was much better option at the time with me and he told me to run or he would shoot me. I couldn’t even stand up I crawled as fast as I could. I told over to what was then South Park now King Boulevard it was a police car stopped at the light and I staggered over to him. My face is starting to swell up I’m bleeding and I’m frantically telling what happened my friend is still back in the building they might kill him and he looks at me and says “So?” Now this ain’t the way it’s supposed to happen – this not the way it would go down on Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver. Well he’s supposed to help me so I got into the back of the police car and told him where to go. He pulls up in front of the building, tells me to get out of the car, and go into the building to find my friend. Now the remnants of the gang, they see me there and they’re coming over to get me, out of the police car. I said, “look, arrest me, take me to the policy station something. There was a police station a block or two away. He drops me off at the police station, I’m thinking, ‘This is adoration.’ I rush into to the police station tell them what’s going on. I never even got around to saying what had happened, as soon as the police saw me, and I’m really swolled up- I was really bleeding. They started laughing. It was all white cops and they just laughed and laughed. They called in from the back to see me and laugh. I call my father. John had gotten into somebody’s apartment who had let him call his mother. We met up at the police station. They took us to the hospital.
That was my personal wake-up call. It made me aware what was going on and that got me involved first in the NAACP and then eventually into the Black Panther Party. Well, the day after the walk out, my father who hadn’t been home that night because he worked the graveyard shift; had he been home I probably would not be telling you this story right now. He took me to Ignatius and we found that I had gotten kicked out. So now I became a full-time member of the Black Panther Party. Fred Hampton was the leader, the chairman of the Black Panther Party spokesman, dynamic leader. I eventually became a part of the education cadre. My job was to teacher political education classes and then eventually to give speeches and sometimes go to debates in place of Fred.
December 4th, 1969 Fred Hampton was assassinated by Chicago Police in conjunction with the FBI. The raid took place about 4 in the morning. Truth of the matter is that they was so afraid of Fred they killed him twice. The night before William O’Neal, head of security and an FBI agent, had given Fred six times the lethal dose of seconal. He would have died anyway, I think not, put two bullets into his head at the end of that raid. Well, the FBI had murdered Fred with intent, he was the heart and soul of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Now the party had done all kinds of activities, there was a breakfast for children program, free medical clinics, and in fact, J. Edgar Hoover said that the most dangerous thing the Black Panther party did was that breakfast for children program – feeding hundred hungry kids. Well when Fred was dead, he was the glue that held all these people together the heart and soul of the party.
In January of 1970, I got married to a party member. In the spring we left the party. Our daughter would be born in September, in the spring when I left the party I took a job at the post office planning on getting on with my life, and in December of 1970, I was working at my station at the main post office when my supervisor came and told me I had to go to the 9th floor. Now, nobody knew anything about the 9th floor other than you didn’t want to go there. I got there, there was two FBI agents, they wanted me to rejoin the Black Panther Party and be an informer. I told them where they could place that idea and they said to me, “You have two options you can work for us or you won’t work.” Well, I wasn’t working for them.
A couple of months later I get a document in the mail. I’m being prosecuted for having been involved in an organization that advocated the armed overthrow of the government. This document contained conversations that I had with people in bookstores about the walkout of St Ignatius, how many guns I owned, how many rounds of ammunition I’d bought – all of these things. So I left.
That began 2 years of hell. I’d apply for a job- my application with disappear. Woman started calling my wife like she was my girlfriend. I had three apartments over those next two years that were broken into about 8 times and it was just driving me nuts. I was a nervous wreck. The last break-in occurred the day before Thanksgiving 1972. The day after Thanksgiving, I joined the Army.
My friends thought I had lost my mind. But, I said if the Government is going to watch me I’m going to go someplace where they can watch me. I’m going to play soldier, and I’m gonna get ‘em off my back, and that’s just what I did. I joined the Army in December, started basic in December of 1972 and was there until December of’ 75. A few months into it, one of my friends told me that these FBI agents have been asking questions. The next day my drill sergeant told me that the FBI wanted to see me. I went to them and I told him the story, “I’ve seen the error of my ways and I’m here to serve my country.” Got ‘em off my back. I had one of the agents in tears.
I got out in December of 75. Stopped by Ignatius in ‘76 and come to find out that a lot of changes had taken place. I found out my buddy, Todd and I were known and somewhat legendary. In 2005, some of our classmates started petitioning the school that we should get our high school diplomas because the things that we had demanded had been implemented in the school. They had the outreach program, they have black studies in the school, there were more black students in the school. Now we were considered visionaries. August 2, 2008, my buddy Tyler and I who had led this walk out, received our high school diplomas from St. Ignatius College Prep. We got letters of recommendation from the mayor of Chicago and two members of the U.S. Congress.
Now I know looking down from heaven my mother had to have a smile on her face and she had to be proud of her baby. And that’s the end of that.