Story By Dr. Yvonne D. Nelson Most everyone knows that Memphis is the city where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King took his last breath. Although NEWSCENE attempted to interview one of the last people at Dr. King’s side before his death, Jerry D. Williams, we are sad to report that his accounting of what happened the day Dr. King was assassinated will not be featured in this publication. Dr. Coby Vernon Smith was born July 17, 1946. A graduate of Manassas High School, Smith and another black youth integrated the all-white Presbyterian Southwestern (currently known as Rhodes) College in the mid-60s. “When we were accepted at Southwestern they needed Dr. Lorenzo Childress Jr. as a football player, I was just on the team,” said Smith, 73. I was only planning on being there for a year because I had received a principle appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis for 1965 and was not interested in staying at Southwestern. Times were turbulent for blacks during this, the civil rights movement, and Dr. Smith just wasn’t having it. He was an organizer of a chapter of the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC) and the Black Organizing Project (BOP) in Memphis and had been an active participant in the Memphis NAACP Chapter. At Southwestern, Smith joined an activist group called the Southern Student Organizing Committee, but was never really accepted as being equal. He would eventually disconnect from all of these organizations. In 1967, Smith and Charles Laverne “Cab” Cabbage co-founded the Invaders. “I feared the Memphis Police Department,” said Dr. Smith who was under constant surveillance by black FBI Photo Credit: Tyrone P. Easley informants including the famous photographer Ernest C. Withers and black members of the Memphis Police Department. “I have copies of original FBI files which reveal that I was being watched. On March 23, 1967, Mr. Withers advised the FBI that I had just returned to Memphis from New Orleans and that he was planning to ‘run into’ me or to ‘find some logical pretext’ to connect with me to learn of my future plans. He was not the only informant that the police and the FBI had watching me.” The FBI document went on to say Withers wrote that he would cover any demonstrations Smith participated in “under the pretext of being a Negro newsman and will take appropriate identification photographs of all possible participants and furnish same to this Bureau.” “I’ve been blessed to find out who many of their (FBI) informants were,” said Dr. Smith. “They had my neighbor down the street who was a lieutenant at the police department. They had a number of people. The former police director Walter Winfrey and Cliff Dates were two of them. Cliff will tell you his part. We grew up together – at least until 1960. That’s when he went to Douglass High School and I went to Manassas, but we are friends. We remained friends. Some of these people feel like once the white anoint them as informants that they are obligated to remain loyal to the FBI and to the police department.” As Dr. Smith is talking, he is interrupted as the phone rings. “They have it bugged and everything,” he said. “They want me to know that they know that I have company. You thought you were paranoid at times. It would be like everybody’s after you.” Smith did not always know that he was being watched, but his strategy once he discovered what was happening probably shocked quite a few agents and policemen. None of my activities were illegal, so my life was an open book. Photo Credit: Tyrone P. Easley 18 Continued on Page 22

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