For me, it was one of those moments in time when everything froze, crystalizing into memory. I was on the floor, on my knees, moving to cover my head.
Above me, a window was in the process of exploding inward, shattered by a canister of tear gas. There was a terrible banging coming from the door, rattling it so hard it seemed ready to burst apart.
Across the room, one of the Invaders was helping pull my mother and sister out of the living room as another fired a shotgun wildly out the window at the police.
It was the Invaders that had brought us here. They said they were going to do what the pig’s corrupt, racist housing authority refused to do: put a roof over our heads. They moved us into an unused housing authority building, got us beds, got the water working again.
The papers called the Invaders militant negro thugs. Momma called them saviors. The Invaders said they just wanted to illuminate the world to the plight of the black and poor in America.
But as the room filled with rotten-egg color smoke that burned my eyes, all I wanted was a place to sleep.
The Memphis Invaders was a local answer to the national Black Panther Party. They were militant where other civil rights organizations were peaceful, unafraid of conflict, sometimes violent, with police. Such was the case in the late 1960s when they took over a Memphis Housing Authority building and gave it over to families that had been languishing in MHA bureaucracy. When the police arrived to remove them, things went downhill fast.