It was late in the evening on July 4, 1970. Driving home after a long day of eating hot dogs and burgers at a picnic, my family and I were slowly approaching our home on Stanton Avenue in Akron, Ohio. As we turned into the driveway, we noticed something different about the American flag that my mother had placed in the slot on our front porch earlier in the day. It appeared as though someone had placed an object on the pole. As we got closer, it became clear what that object was: a toy M16 machine gun.
The toy was mine, but I hadn’t put it there. And as an eight-year-old, I wasn’t sure what the symbol meant. But the anger emanating from the front seat told me that whoever did it would suffer the consequences. The yelling continued in the house: “Who did this?” “How could you do this?” “What were you thinking?” “If you don’t tell me who did this, I’m going to…”
Obviously, nobody was owning up.
The interrogation was directed at my older brother Kerry, who hadn’t come with us to the picnic and instead had stayed home with some friends. He denied knowing who put the M16 on the flag, but I’m convinced it was him, and I understand why. Only two months earlier, on May 4, a tragedy had occurred some twenty-five minutes from our home in South Akron. Four students were shot dead, and nine others were wounded, when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on the campus of Kent State University. My brother was making a statement. He wanted the neighborhood — and my parents — to know how he felt.
In those days, when people asked where we were from, we commonly responded: “L.A. — Lower Akron.” Yeah, it was a joke, but it was a reflection of how we felt. We knew where we stood compared to more affluent sections of the city. My home on Stanton Avenue had three bedrooms, a basement, and an attic. Built in the 1920s, it was similar to the other houses on the street. Our neighborhood was working-class. Both of my parents worked full time, and we always had food on the table. Christmas was special at our house. My mother made sure we got most of what we asked for. I found out, years later, that she had jacked up the credit cards quite a bit. She was never good with money. It’s something we kids never knew about back then.