By John Loyd Edwards, III
Around 10:00 P.M. on Monday night, December 1, 1969, my mother, Lottie Edwards was watching television at our home on Fortwood Street with my brothers, Valitus, 19, and David 6, who was autistic. Suddenly a flash occurred through a side window.
As he recounted that fateful evening Valitus said, “I thought it was an electrical malfunction.” But when firebombs were tossed through the other three windows on each side of the house, it became clear that they were under attack and no one was intended to escape alive.
Fortunately, no one was injured. Ironically, Valitus, the third oldest son had returned home earlier that day as a result of a disciplinary action from Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee. ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ He was able to get our mother and younger brother out of the home safely through an exit where one of the firebombs had only partially burned.
My father, Reverend John Loyd Edwards, Jr., noted civil rights leader, pastor of Cosmopolitan Community Church and director of H.E.L.P. Inc., a social services and self-help organization, was returning home after picking up my 14 year-old brother, Reginald. Reginald worked at one of the H.E.L.P. Inc. restaurant enterprises on East Third Street. Seeing the fire trucks and police cars blocking the entrance of Fortwood Street, my father didn’t realize it was his own home on fire until he had weaved his way through. “That’s our house”, he told his son. No other family members were in the house. My older brother, Vernell, an educator, was living in Seattle, Washington and myself, the second oldest, John L. Edwards, III was serving combat duty in Vietnam. Over time the police seemed less and less enthusiastic about the investigation. It is now 52 years later, and no one has ever been charged! However, that does not mean there were not any suspects. (To be continued……………………)
I wasn’t told about the bombing until a week before I was to return home from Vietnam in September of 1970. As the cab pulled up in front of the house and I got out…….. I remember ….. ‘smelling the smoke’. The acrid smell of fire and burnt wood was just like I had never left Vietnam. My brother rushed to the cab, hugged me, and picked up my bags. My mother waited on the porch. In spite of everything that had happened, I could see the joy and relief on her face. She had prayed me home! She embraced me, then checked to see if I had all my fingers and toes. I imagined, just like she did when I was born. The day was Sunday and Mother said, “Let’s get ready for church. Your dad will be so happy to see you.”
Dad was in the pulpit in the middle of his sermon when we walked in. He abruptly stopped his sermon. He then shouted with a voice filled with emotion: “Thank GOD, my son is home!”
It was a joyous time in the church. The majority of church members greeted me and welcomed me back home! However, within a few of them I could sense hostility. Not everyone was happy to have me back home.….. and I still ‘smelled the smoke’.