We would always be five or six strong. People would see us and point, “There go them Black Nationalists!” We wore military-style brogans, skull caps or berets, and dashikis. I kept two 30-round banana clips, an M1 and M2 carbine underneath my peacoat.

The police were given special instructions not to mess wit’ us. They’d been warned to let the SWAT Team handle Nationalists. At that time, the police department only carried shotguns and .38s. Still, they pulled up in their paddy wagon and started harassing.

There was this brother, 6’4, 250 pounds, we called him Big Omar. He was standing in front of one of the few white-owned shops left in the neighborhood. 

He asked the cops, “Why y’all messin’ wit' them brothers? All they do is make dashikis.” 

They told Omar he was interfering wit’ police business. They tried to come for him and he wasn’t havin’ it. He threw one officer through the paddy window, knocked two more down. When they finally arrested him, they didn’t even take him to jail. They drove him down to Rockefeller Park, tied him to a tree, and beat ‘em with blackjacks. They fractured his legs and arms. Knocked his teeth out. 

Two days later, when we saw him again, we didn’t even recognize him. He joined the Nationalists right then and there. This was late ’66.

American Uncle in Cleveland

Malika Ali