January 20, 2018
When I last saw Frank Connor, he was laying in the back of SCLC Field Director Major Johns’s car with a gash in his head that was pouring out blood. He had been attacked along with seven other young men who were guarding Antioch Baptist Church where our voting rights campaign was headquartered. It was June 29, 1965 and Frank was just sixteen years old.
When I re-located Frank in Pensacola, Florida in 2010 he told me that he barely survived that attack by the KKK. He was in the hospital in Selma for months. His parents separated during that time, and he had to return to live with his father near the church where he was beaten, which was very hard for him. Frank suffered traumatic brain damage and was unable to graduate with his own class at the Academy. He missed six months of school but did graduate with the Camden Academy Class of 1971. Despite this horrible attack, he later married, had children, and earned a good living as a truck driver before his retirement. We spoke on the phone several times both before and after I quoted him in “This Bright Light of Ours.” At first he was reluctant to share his story but later he told me that it was a relief.
This is an excerpt from his story, “It was as scary as I never knew what. I didn’t know if I was going to get killed. They didn’t want blacks and whites to be together but that was no cause to try to kill us. That took us completely by surprise, to come in a church like that. A certain part of my body holds that always. I put my hand on my head and I thank the Lord I didn’t die. I was bleeding all over. The doctor said I only had a 50 percent chance to live.
“I had revenge in my mind for many years. When I visited, I didn’t even want to walk up through town. I’d just go to my brother’s house and stay there. There are some low-down white people there. If they could get the power again, they’d do the same thing over again. They don’t think we are people. But they’d be surprised this time. Not me, I wouldn’t take up arms against them, but there are some that would, for sure. I was losing blood like you know what. But I made it. My mind is not like it used to be. I had fear in my mind for a long time but the Lord helped me through”
Frank called me back a few weeks later. Our conversations had brought that terrible night back vividly. I apologized. He said, “No, it is always there in the back of my mind. There is no way to forget it completely. I felt like I woke to find the shadow of death was hovering over me. Just before the man began to beat me with a lead pipe, I instinctively put my arm over my eyes; I didn’t want them to blind me. Two men hit me over and over and over, like they would never stop. The Lord must have been protecting me; otherwise I could be blind. Or dead.
“Me and a bunch of other guys went to a class reunion a few years back and they talked about that like we were heroes or something. I tried to block it out of my mind. I left to go to New York in 1968. Living in Camden, it was a nightmare . . . a real nightmare, I tell you.”
Frank Connor may not have wanted to be a hero, but all those young women and men who put their lives on the line for racial equality, the right to vote and to desegregate schools are heroes to me. May he rest in peace and blessed memory and all who mourn be comforted.
For more stories of the young people who risked their lives for civil rights, please read “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” (University of Alabama Press 2014) www.thisbrightlightofours.com