Thompson, Nelson Rev. is typed on the envelopes, a heading made by a Star employee to reference the news clippings inside.
Before the newspaper converted to a computerized system, librarians took scissors to the newspaper’s pages each morning, cutting, filing and cross-filing stories. The Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson, head of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has three envelopes documenting when he appeared in the paper. The first two predate my time at The Star. The third contains my young reporting self.
Thompson was among the first and most instrumental connections of what I’m grateful has become my career. He died Sunday at age 70.
My old friend the reverend and I huddled Monday evening, seated on the floor of the Star library, a room rarely visited by reporters now. Surrounded by rows of filing cabinets, I read the yellowed articles.
The first time my byline and Thompson met was his 1990 arrest. He had protested at the construction site of the new Central High School, a $22 million project of the Kansas City school district’s court-ordered desegregation plan. He objected to the lack of minority contractors and crews.
Having only recently graduated from college, I qualified then as relatively ignorant of America’s civil rights history, global inequalities and racial extremism — let alone black urban life and poverty.
He told me to read “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” The book is Martin Luther King Jr.’s last, published after his murder. Its pages are now among the most tattered of my bookshelves.
Through Thompson, I connected with legends of civil rights and theological thought: James H. Cone, Fred Shuttlesworth and C.T. Vivian, along with the widows of Malcolm X and King and several of King’s children. He led me to interview more controversial figures, such as Louis Farrakhan. We talked of Thompson’s visit to Nelson Mandela in South Africa and the abject poverty spawned by apartheid.
But mostly, Thompson allowed me to be a bug with a notepad at his feet, absorbing the reflections, hesitations and passions of his thoughts. He is among those responsible for broadening my world, alternatively urging and coaxing a comfort with, and understanding of, black urban life.
“Maaaaaarrrryy!” My name always became drawn out whenever Thompson spotted me at an event. That laugh. That smile. How I long to hear his greeting again.