C. What happened to hero Big Ben Parker
ode to Parker by Lena Doolin Mason, The Negro, He Was in it
1. early years
2. after the shooting : Newspaper and eye-witness accounts of Parker's heroicism
3. damned in the trial
4. black community reacts
To Buffalo, McKinley went,
September sixth, in Music Hall,
He knocked the murderer to the floor,
J. B. Parker is his name,
They bought his clothes for souvenirs,
He saved him from the third ball,
McKinley now in heaven rests,
White man, stop lynching and burning
Parker knocked the assassin down,
ref. part of poem "A Negro In It" by
Lena Doolin Mason (1864-?) LaPrade, Candis, (1992) Notable
Black American Women. Smith, Jessie Carney, Ed. Gale Research
Inc, Detroit, Michigan., Pp. 734-736.
1. a short biography of the early years of Parker
James Benjamin Parker was six-foot-six inches and about 250 pounds. In a Buffalo Times Sept. 12 article, he is described as a plain, modest, gentlemanly personJames Benjamin Parker came to Buffalo from the Savannah Georgia where he had been a constable.
James Benjamin Parker was born on July 31, 1857 in Atlanta, Georgia. Educated in Atlanta schools, he also traveled as far north as Philadelphia, but returned south to live in Savanna. At one time he had been a newspaperman working for the Southern Recorder. According to the Atlanta Constitution, he was well known in Savannah and at one time was a Constable for a Negro magistrate. The article also said he had the reputation of never returning an unserved warrant. The citizens of the East Side of Savannah also knew that he was man of few words and a command to submit to arrest was always quietly obeyed.
He traveled to Chicago and worked as waiter in the Pullman Car organization. He returned to Atlanta in 1895. When he left again, he had only one living relative, his mother in Savannah, Georgia. Prior to coming to Buffalo, he was in Saratoga, New York and came to Buffalo only days before the assassination to work at the Exposition for the Bailey Catering Company.
2. after the shooting
Many"eyewitness" newspaper accounts of the assassination can be found below. There is no newspaper record of what Parker did immediately following the shooting. But according to a September 10, 1901, news article, Parker appeared in the Pan American Exposition Mall, near the west gate, after the incident. A group of people surrounded him and he was asked to sell pieces of his waistcoat and other clothing. He recounted the story of the assassination and sold one b.utton off his coat for $1.00 (think of $25 now in 2002.
In the time between the shooting and McKinley's death, Parker had numerous offers to work on the Midway at the Exposition recounting his participation. One company wanted to sell his photograph, but he refused. In a quote in the Buffalo Commercial, dated Sept. 13, 1901, Parker said,
"I happened to be in a position where I could aid in the capture of the man. I do not think that the American people would like me to make capital out of the unfortunate circumstances. I am no freak anyway. I do not want to be exhibited in all kinds of shows. I am glad that I was able to be of service to the country."
News of the part Parker played in this national drama quickly spread. The Atlanta Constitution had a story in the September 10, edition with the headline " Testimonial to Jim Parker." The article related how the Negros of Savannah were planning to set up some type substantial testimonial for James Parker. The Constitution said that he was well known in the city but he had not been there for several years. On September 13 in the same newspaper an article entitled "Negros Applaud Parker" with the sub-heading "Mass Meeting in Charleston Hears Booker Washington." On September 12, to a mass meeting of 5,000 African Americans, Booker T. Washington delivered an address and resolution denouncing the reckless deed of the "red handed anarchist" and rejoicing that a southern Negro "had saved the President McKinley from death."
News Reports of Big Ben Parker's Heroism
3. damned in the trial
Czolgosz's trial was a sham from the very beginning -- a kangaroo court. Most disturbing was the conduct of the defense. Czolgosz was defended by two court-appointed lawyers, Loran L. Lewis and Robert G. Titus, aging former judges who had not argued in court in years. On the opening day of the trial, Lewis requested of the judge that the court be in session only four hours a day:
"Neither Judge Titus nor myself is a young man and neither of us is in perfect health. We have had little opportunity to consult with each other. We believe that the trial will not be injured by having short hours. We have concluded to ask Your Honor during this trial to sit from ten to noon in the morning and from 2 to 4 in the afternoon. I mention four P.M. because my home -- my summer home is in Lewiston and the train leaves at 4:40."
Their laziness extended into the courtroom, too. Titus and Lewis made only the most perfunctory challenges of the jury. The result was a shocking miscarriage of justice. All of the jurors admitted that they were inclined to find Czolgosz guilty and that they would consider acquittal only if presented with reasonable evidence to the contrary. Czolgosz's lawyers made no effort to communicate with their client, called no defense witnesses, and constantly apologized to the court for their client's "dastardly act," while through it all tearfully referring to the greatness of "our martyred President." But their most serious shortcoming was their failure to raise the issue of Czolgosz' sanity. While they did instruct the jury that Czolgosz must be considered sane before he could be found guilty, the lawyers made no attempt to offer any testimony or evidence dealing with their client's mental state at the time of the shooting.
Prior to the trial, which began September 23, 1901, Parker was considered a major character in the assassination. However, trial itself clouded Parker's participation in the events of September 6, 1901. Not only was Parker not asked to testify, but those who did testify never identified Parker as the person who took the assassin down.
Two days after McKinley died, a grand jury, meeting for the first and only time, indicted Leon Czolgosz for murder. His trial proceeded expeditiously. It opened on September 23, and by the end of the first day, a jury had been selected. On the second day both prosecution and defense attorneys completed their cases, the judge charged the jury, and in less than half an hour a guilty verdict was returned. The case was closed twenty-four hours after it opened.
While he had quickly became a hero to the American people, Parker's stature unraveled just as quickly. In a September 13, article about Parker in the Buffalo Express, Mr. James Quackenbush, an attorney, stated that he had been standing six feet from the President. He said that he was looking to the right of President at the time the first shot was fired and looked to Czolgosz at the sound of the second shot. Quackenbush stated that he saw Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Ireland (both Secret Service men), Private O' Brian and the other men from the 73rd Seacoast Artillery, lunge forward toward Czolgosz who then went down. He also stated that he saw no one else seize upon Czoglosz except the Secret Service men and the artillerymen. John Branch, an African American porter in the Temple of Music and eyewitness to the shooting according to the record, did testify but wasn't asked if he saw any person of color in the event.
Even the Secret Service Men who earlier reported Parker's role testified they saw no Negro involved. Both the Buffalo Courier and the Commercial newspapers, responded in an indirect fashion to the controversy by stating that the evidence brought out at the trial proved that Parker had nothing to with the capture of Czolgosz. In addition, they accused Parker lecturing and receiving money for the "Parker Fund" under false pretenses.
4. the black community reacts
The African American community was outraged because of Parker not testifying at the trial. It appeared to many that the Secret Service and the military were embarrassed that this man essentially brought the assassin down instead of them. Parker was asked to comment about not testifying. He said, " I don't say it was done with any intent to defraud, but it looks mighty funny, that's all."
The African American community held a ceremony to honor James Parker for his part in capturing Czolgosz and to inquire as to why Parker was not recognized as a participant in the assassin's arrest. The gathering was held at the Vine Street African Methodist Church on September 27, 1901. The church was packed and the general feeling, according to the Buffalo News, was that the audience was incensed that no credit or recognition was given to Parker.
The meeting was called to order by the Reverend E. A. Johnson, pastor of the church. Former pastor Reverend J. C. Aylmer led a hymn and gave a prayer. The discussion that followed resulted in the formation of a committee to inquire into the merits of Parker's case. The committee members were Rev. J. E. Nash, pastor of Michigan Baptist Church, Rev. J. C. Ayler, M. H. Lucas, W. Q. H. Aikens and J. W. Peterson.
While the committee went into private discussion, Parker's fellow named Shaw delivered a short testimonial on Parker. He said, "When I first entered this hall, it was my intention to go quietly way back and sit down. Yesterday. I feel the inspiration of defense arise within me. The evident attempt to discredit Parker is a sign of conspiracy and should we fail to emphatically resent it, I claim we are a disgrace to our race. " When Jim Parker entered the hall, he refused all demands to make a speech and sat down amidst cheers.
The committee entered and read their position on the matter.
"Whereas, there is a conflict of statements between the Associated Press and the Supreme Court of New York with respect or disrespect to the heroic act of James Parker in having thwarted the purpose of Leon Czolgosz in inflicting immediate death of our William McKinley. Whereas, we, the colored citizens of the City of Buffalo, N.Y. in this mass meeting assembled, that they very much regret the clash of statement in respect to the reported act of heroism on the part of James Parker, in that the Associated Press as a molder of public sentiment and as a herald of accepted facts. Reported said heroic act both in America and Europe, and that the Supreme Court, the arbiter of justice . Entirely eliminated said James B. Parker from the part he is reported by the press to have played in this tragedy."
James Ross, the colored
mason and publisher, wrote to the newspapers in support of Parker's
heroism and hired him to be a traveling agent (magazine salesman)
for the Gazetteer and Guide; Ross' magazine for African
Americans published in Buffalo. Thus, Parker left Buffalo after
the trial. He had been promised a lifetime government job, best
as I can learn, no such job materialized.
ref: Gary Earl Ross (James Ross' great grandson)
ref: [Daryl Rasuli essay James B. Parker Revisited]