Two shotgun blasts broke the early morning silence at the Broad River Bridge near Athens, Ga. , on July 11, 1964, killing black Army officer Lemuel Penn, a Washington, D. C. educator and World War II veteran. Penn and two fellow black officers were ...
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Black Army officer Lemuel Penn's slaying 60 years ago shocked nation and more...

Black Army officer Lemuel Penn's slaying 60 years ago shocked nation

Two shotgun blasts broke the early morning silence at the Broad River Bridge near Athens, Ga., on July 11, 1964, killing black Army officer Lemuel Penn, a Washington, D.C. educator and World War II veteran.

Penn and two fellow black officers were returning home after two weeks of Army Reserve training at Fort Benning, now Fort Moore, in Columbus, Ga.

The assistant superintendent of Washington's public schools, the 48-year-old Penn received a World War II Bronze Star, serving in New Guinea and the Philippines.

As Penn's Chevrolet Biscayne sedan approached the bridge on Georgia State Route 172 near Colbert in Madison County, three Klansmen in a station wagon pulled beside the soldiers' car.

The shots were fired into Penn's vehicle, killing him instantly as he sat at the steering wheel. His passengers, Maj. Charles F. Brown and Lt. Col John Howard, stopped the automobile from going into the river.

Penn's killing nine days after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act shocked the nation with its brutal display of entrenched white Southern resistance to the black civil rights movement.

The three Klansman saw Penn and his companions stopped near the University of Georgia arch in downtown Athens, where Penn took over driving duties for the trip. 

Noting the car's Washington license plate, Athens Klan members James Lackey, Cecil Myers and Joseph Howard Sims decided to follow the officers. Sims reportedly said "that must be one of President Johnson's boys" and vowed "to kill me a nigger."

The Klansmen in their Chevy II station wagon at last caught up to Penn's car 22 miles north of Athens at the Broad River Bridge, marking the boundary between Madison and Elbert counties. Myers raised his shotgun and fired, and Sims did the same from the back seat, according to Wikipedia.

Penn's three assailants were charged in the highly publicized slaying. Myers and Sims, accused of firing the fatal shots, were acquitted of murder in a nationally publicized Madison County trial. Lackey was found innocent in a separate trial.

Sims, Myers, Lackey and three other Klansmen later were charged in a federal conspiracy case. While the other defendants were found innocent, Sims and Myers were convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 10 years each.

A ceremony at the Madison County Senior Center Thursday marked the 60th anniversary of the slaying. Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Fletcher Page in a front page article about the remembrance presented a detailed account of the slaying and Penn's life.

Legendary Atlanta Constitution political columnist Bill Shipp gave the definitive history of the slaying in his book "Murder at Broad River Bridge: The Slaying of Lemuel Penn by the Ku Klux Klan," published by the University of Georgia Press.

Acclaimed Atlanta broadcaster John Pruitt fictionally portrayed the slaying and its media coverage in his compelling 2022 novel "Tell It True."

Penn's slaying was one of the most appalling of the civil rights era. Sixty years later, racial violence burns with new intensity.




Taffy Brodesser-Akner's "Long Island Compromise" the summer's literary rave

Taffy Brodesser-Akner's "Long Island Compromise" looks like the summer's hottest pop novel.

"Long Island Compromise," published Tuesday, arrives with a rush of media attention, similar to the excitement surrounding Emma Cline's "The Guest" several years ago.

Brodesser-Akner's splash of media interviews included a revealing hour-long discussion Tuesday with "Fresh Air's" Tonya Mosley in which the writer looked back on her journalism career, her challenges in completing the book, and her childhood in a Jewish family with homes on Long Island and in Brooklyn.

“Long Island Compromise” is also receiving enthusiastic reviews.

The longtime profiles reporter for The New York Times authored the 2019 literary sensation "Fleishman Is in Trouble." She also wrote and producded a popular TV miniseries based on the book,

"Long Island Compromise," which Brodesser-Akner started writing before "Fleishman," examines a wealthy industrialist's1980 kidnapping at his home in Middle Rock, an exclusive Long Island town based on the real Great Neck.

The book explores the long-tem physic costs of the kidnapping on the factory owner’s three children.

As Brodesser-Akner disclosed to Mosely and other interviewers, the book is based on the real kidnapping of a close friend of Brodesser-Akner’s family.The crime occurred during Brodesser-Akner's childhood, and continues to haunt her, as she disclosed in a recent article for the Sunday New York Times magazine. In the article, she tells the story of the real kidnapping victim and his family.

"Long Island Compromise's" early acclaim identifies it as one of those rare books that blend literary ambition and popular appeal, asserting that the American novel remains vital.


Looking forward to the deer's daily arrival

Each afternoon, deer come to our backyard.

Sometimes, a single buck struts by, headed to the wooded area on the other side of the yard. Lately, a mother and a small spotted fawn appear.

The strange animals sometimes pause to eat the grass or rest before heading up the ridge to the woods. When I tap the window, they raise their heads in alarm, sometimes galloping away.

Their arrival before dusk coincides with that of a cardinal who perches on a chair besides the patio table. The beautiful red bird stays there for a few moments, as if remembering being there before. At last, it flies away.

Over the years, we've observed foxes and rabbits taking the same path as the deer. They have disappeared, along with the woodpeckers that used to tattoo the trees. One once pecked holes in the eaves of the house. 

Like others, I sometimes think of the deer as pests. But I look forward to their visit each afternoon.




Farewell Robert Towne, acclaimed "Chinatown" screenwriter

Robert Towne raised the prominence of scriptwriting in American culture.

Towne, who died Monday at his Los Angeles home at age 89, received the critical acclaim once given directors and novelists.

Although recognized by Academy Awards categories, screenwriting was undervalued until Towne and other "New Hollywood" script mavens arrived in the late 1960s and early '70s.

Following Towne, many young literary aspirants turned to writing movies rather than plays, magazine articles and books.

Receiving the 1975 Academy Award for his "Chinatown" screenplay, Towne also wrote "The Last Detail" and "Shampoo" and made significant contributions to "The Godfather" and "Bonnie and Clyde," along with other movies.

While Towne's "Chinatown" script is known as an exemplar of the screenwriter's art, director Roman Polanski changed the ending, to Towne's intense opposition.

Still grieving the murder of his wife Sharon Tate by the Charles Manson gang, Polanski insisted that the movie end with the shocking slaying of Faye Dunaway's character Evelyn Mulwray by her father, the despicable Noah Cross, chillingly played by John Huston. In Towne's original script, Cross is killed by his daughter.

Mrs. Mulwray's tragic end leads to the famous last line, "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown."

It's never been disclosed who wrote the finale, but Towne originally had the idea of Chinatown as a symbol of Los Angeles' greed and immortality, which he said derived from a conversation with a Los Angeles detective.

According to author Sam Wasson's "The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood," Towne received uncredited help on his "Chinatown" script from his Pomona College classmate Edward Taylor, with whom Towne worked throughout his career.

Towne like his close friend Jack Nicholson began writing, directing and acting for B movie horror master Roger Corman, who recently died. Nicholson portrayed Towne's 1930s Los Angeles detective Jake Gittes in "Chinatown" and Navy officer Billy L. "Badass" Buddusky in "The Last Detail," two of Nicholson's defining roles.

Warren Beatty, another Towne friend, also portrayed a memorable Los Angeles prototype, the hairdresser George Roundy, in the 1975 movie "Shampoo," which Beatty co-wrote with Towne.

Towne directed several movies, including the 1988 crime thriller "Tequila Sunrise" and the 2006 romantic drama "Ask the Dust," starring Collin Farrell and Salma Hayek.

Inspired by Los Angeles writer Raymond Chandler and his famous detective Philip Marlowe in writing "Chinatown," Towne also wrote the screenplay of  "Ask the Dust," saluting John Fante, another classic Los Angeles author. 

Towne's cinematic visions of Los Angeles match Chandler and Fante's depictions of the city as a soulless place of broken dreams.

While "Chinatown" and other Towne movies will excite new generations of viewers, young writers will also study his scripts for their literary value.





Extreme heat sounds alarm on climate change

Another nuclear summer has arrived.

A high of 99 degrees is predicted for Atlanta Wednesday, once a rare occurrence even in July or August.

As Saporta Report columnist Tom Baxter pointed out this week, this is a more intense heat than in the past.

Each morning, I'm amazed at so many temperatures above 100 in The New York Times' listing of weather forecasts for cities across the nation.

Phoenix and Las Vegas don't yet reach the highs of Mideast cities like Baghdad or Tehran, where readings often break the once unimagined threshold of 120 degrees. Our American desert and Southern cities will get there in a few years if current patterns continue.

Soaring heat killed recently killed hundreds of Muslims making their Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Elite pilgrims had access to air conditioned tents and water stations. Those not so privileged died in the heat.

Daily weather conditions increasingly indicate long-term patterns of climate change, as Baxter pointed out.

The South's punishing summers will drive many to Northern states, whose climates will turn moderate.

Southern governors like Florida's Ron DeSantis deny that climate change exists, as extreme weather imperils the region's future.

If action is not taken soon, rising sea levels and soaring sea levels will make much of the South and the Southwest uninhabitable.

As life-threatening weather becomes an every-day reality, the GOP wants to increase petroleum production, spewing more CO2 and methane emissions into the already overloaded atmosphere.

A Trump victory in the presidential election will place the nation on a path of no return. Biden's re-election will offer the possibility of shifting from a petroleum-based economy to alternative sources of power.

The election will decide the future of humanity.