Again & Again & Again: Male Killer; Black Victim

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I was heading out the door for a twelve mile run this morning thinking about what I might listen to to pass the time. My general faire is audio books (currently Fiona Hill’s “There is Nothing For You Here,” which I love) or my current music playlist which consists of songs my friends have contributed.

But as I scrolled through my podcasts, something caught my attention. And not in a good way. I am the most “news” illiterate person on the face of the planet. I can count on one hand the number of times I have looked at a newspaper or other news source in the last twelve months. It’s just too fucking depressing. I like to do my part on the micro level. I attempt to get men who are alcoholics sober, one man at a time. Beyond that I stick my head as far into the sand as humanly possible.

But this week I have been thinking a lot about how my parents quite literally risked their lives to confront racism in 1964. As I stared at my phone on my doorstep, I also thought about every single black person who cannot walk out their front door without worrying about being harassed…or in fact killed during their run. So, I clicked on this podcast and started running.

Up until that moment, I had heard of Tyre Nichols only vaguely (perhaps when my wife had the news on in the kitchen). But nothing more.

On the podcast, I hear that Tyre Nichols was a 29-year-old Black man who lived in Memphis as I start my run. That his mother described him as living a simple and pleasant life. That he worked for FedEx, loved to skateboard, was an amateur photographer and had a 4-year-old son.

Then he was pulled over for a routine traffic stop on January 7th.

Police chased him through the woods, tortured, and beat him to death, while he cried out for his mother…whose house was just a hundred yards away.

On the podcast, I heard that same mother weeping for her son…

…I listened to this and no words….FUCK!….my mind goes blank, unable to process it….


As time goes on and I get older (I am 58), I realize on an ever deeper level that I have no idea what it is like to be non-white or non-male.

I don’t have any idea the agony that Tyre Nichols went through, or the agony his mother is going through right now.

Likewise, I have no idea what it is like be a woman who is paid less for equal work, who is subject to objectification, sexual harassment and rape (the book “Know My Name” should be required reading for all men, especially teenaged boys).

I do know a few things.

The killers are always men: the police officers; the mass shooters; the guys blowing shit up at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

I cannot think of a single act of lethal violence involving a police officer killing an innocent citizen, or a shooter killing multiple people, in which the killer was not a man. Women would simply not do such a thing.

In the case of police killings, the victims are always Black. Again and again and again…in cold blood.


I also do know that we as men are in crisis. Who would do such horrific things? And why? What the hell is going on? I can’t answer those questions but I am trying to do my teeny tiny part.

I started helping one guy at a time get sober. Then we got a few guys together, and then a few more. One thing we know for sure is that male isolation is at an all time high. On the fringe this causes acts of violence. For most men it just means they suffer and will die a premature death due to suicide, addiction, or the increase health risks associated with loneliness.

We have a men’s group every Sunday night to hear an inspirational speaker and connect. I don’t know if we are preventing police violence or rape, but at least we are trying to convince guys not to kill themselves, slowly or quickly. And it seems to be working. Baby steps.


This coming Sunday night, February 5th, we are going to gather as men on zoom to talk about race. Not directly about Tyre Nichols. But about the courage it takes to take on racism directly when you have no power other than your body and your brains and the moral imperative for justice.

We cannot solve racism and sexism single-handedly, but at least we can try to get our shit together as men. It is time. The info is below. Men, I hope you will join me.


“Quaker Witness: Freedom Summer of 1964 with Jim Matlack”

This talk is a part of the Men’s Sunday Night Speaker Series, which was started to bring men together to talk about spirituality and meaning, and to provide a space to fight male isolation, which has become so prevalent in our society. We ask that only those who identify as male attend the live event and participate in the post-talk sharing; a recording the talk will be available afterwards. The format is 30-minute speaker followed by 30 minutes of audience response (feel free to forward this invitation).

8 pm EST Sunday February 5th on Zoom (this zoom info is always the same)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 968 759 7534

Passcode: Tom

Jim Matlack is my dad. That means this talk is especially personal for me.

Dad is the smartest person I have ever met. He graduated from Princeton in 1960. Immediately after graduation, he and my mom, who graduated from Bryn Mahr and was no academic slouch herself, were married. He then continued his studies at Oxford, where he received a master’s degree on a Fulbright scholarship in 1962, after which he began his PhD in American Studies at Yale. He then taught at Cornell and UMass-Amherst, where he was a leader in the anti-war movement along with Dan Berrigan and many others, often getting arrested in acts of civil disobedience for protests. As an act of conscious protest, during the Vietnam War he mailed his draft card back to selective service, risking a two-year prison term.

My dad’s Quaker faith goes back at least nine generations. Our direct ancestor, William Matlack, arrived from England in 1677 on the shores of what is now New Jersey. William came here as an indentured servant to escape religious persecution for his Quaker faith. My dad grew up very near to where that boat came ashore – in Moorestown, NJ, amongst a strong Quaker community. He and my mom met in the 11th grade at the Quaker boarding school Westtown School, where many of Dad’s family attended before him.

Through the generations there have been certain “bad boy” Quakers (a select group of which I would count myself a member). Timothy Matlack was the grandson of William. He was infamous for many things including bear baiting and cock fighting. He was not a devote Quaker, and even fought in the Revolutionary War despite the Quaker vow of pacifism. Timothy is perhaps most famous as the scribe who wrote out the Declaration of Independence at the Continental Congress of 1776.

Dad’s 84 years have been shaped by this Quaker faith. It was his faith that ultimately led him to risking his life again and again in the name of social justice. For the last 20 years of his career, he worked for the American Friends Service Committee. He was part of the first western delegation to see the killing fields of Cambodia. He visited Gaza, Nicaragua, and Mexico, to name just a few other. He bared witness to the suffering of other human beings – to show them love and compassion and to share their stories with others in hopes of inspiring change in the world. (Here is a link to my story about traveling with Dad to turn over all his files to AFSC in a final act of retirement: “Walking My Dad Home”).

But the topic for tonight’s talk, and the origins of my dad’s life of service, begin right here in the United States.

The Beginning of a Life of Service

My dad’s social activism began soon after he and my mom returned from Oxford in 1962 and he started his PhD at Yale in American Studies. In the fall of 1963, Dad traveled to Mississippi for the first time with Yale Divinity student, and Princeton roommate, Mel Endy in a Volkswagen bug to witness the efforts of and support the nascent organizers of the Freedom Democratic Party (“FDP”).

Despite never crossing an international border, he describes this experience as the first time he encountered the feeling of being in a foreign country that was occupied by insurgents who were an existential threat to the people. He would later compare this experience to being in actual foreign countries during wartime, except that the feeling in Mississippi in 1963 and the threat to African Americans and northerners who might help them was even more pervasive. When driving with African American organizers he was instructed to sit in the back seat to make it look like he had hired a driver and avoid police suspicion. Dad realized that by organizing in any way, these African Americans were risking danger and damage—the loss of jobs, mortgages, and physical harm.

In 1963, Dad and Mel eventually caught a ride back to Yale with Joe Liberman, the editor of the Yale Daily News who would later become Senator Liberman and a Vice-Presidential candidate.

About a year later, in the summer of 1964, Yale sponsored two dozen graduate students to exchange places with teachers at Black colleges in the Deep South. Those teachers would come study at Yale and the Yale students would teach at the Black colleges. Dad’s official reason for being there was to teach at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Dad also had an unofficial interest in participating in Freedom Summer along with the 700 SNCC volunteers, despite the Rust College administration ultimately being upset with him due to fear of reprisals from the white authorities long after he had left. Among other things, the SNCC volunteers were planning on helping African Americans register to vote, and in an attempt to get delegates seated at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, NJ later that summer, form their own Freedom Democratic Party.

Upon learning from my dad his plan to go to Mississippi, my mom, who was pregnant with me and caring for my 2-year-old elder brother, William, decreed: “You are not going without me!” She was every bit as courageous as my dad. And she wanted to at least know what kind of danger he was in.

Mom and Dad drove down in her parents’ car, thinking its Maryland plates would be slightly less conspicuous than their Connecticut ones. Upon arriving in Holly Springs and being shown to their living quarters on the campus of Rust College, they were promptly told to move the baby’s crib away from the window – night riders had shot into the same ground floor apartment just two days before. That same week they heard that Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner (two white and one Black organizers) had disappeared. The local newspaper called it a hoax. Seven weeks later their bodies were found. The state refused to prosecute. No one was charged with the murders until 2005.

Dad found the teaching challenging. It was indeed an environment of extremely high racial tension. When Mom went into Holly Springs town to shop for the family, three sides of the square were for whites only. The fourth side was for Blacks. When Mom went into the white stores the shopkeepers refused to wait on her or take her money.

While in Mississippi and leading up to the presidential election, Dad very much wanted to participate in and witness the FDP process. The party conducted county caucuses, a statewide convention, and acts of civil disobedience, including famous the testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer before the rules committee at the Democratic National Convention where she demanded that members of the FDP be seated to represent the majority Black state. (Lyndon Johnson infamously tried to interrupt her testimony by holding a spontaneous news conference and forcing the networks to cover him instead of Fannie.)

Dad attended the county caucus in a local church. The police surrounded the building, shining their headlights inside while the caucus met. The police followed Dad all the way home, attempting to intimidate him. One evening, while Dad was on the way home from the statewide FDP convention in Jackson, his car broke down in enemy territory. He knew his car had been leaking oil and had just hoped he would make it home. He had no choice but to enter a local diner/gas station with a lunch counter filled with “good old boys” and a pay phone at the far end. He made it to a safe house, but every night while Dad’s car was being worked on by the mechanic, either his host or his host’s son stood guard on the front porch on the lookout for the Klu Klux Klan. His host was Robert Miles, a leading advocate in the struggle for Black voting, and night riders had shot into the house just before dad arrived. The mechanic fixing his car was Black. So too were his host and his host’s son.

I will be asking Dad questions for 30 minutes to give him the opportunity to share about the events of that summer, the Freedom Summer of 1964, in greater depth, along with how his Quaker faith was so foundational to why he and Mom risked their lives to advance justice even when it meant confronting bigoted and violent whites in the South.

Additional Resources

Here are some resources for those who would like to dig into this part of our country’s history before or after Dad’s talk:

Harvard Crimson article by Freedom Summer participant in Holly Springs (where my parents were) written September 1964

Bob Moses organizer of SNCC, talks about Students Nonviolent Coordination Committee.

2 min clip of volunteers reflecting on their experience.

4 min clip on Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.

3 min clip on Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony on behalf of the Freedom Democratic party at national democratic committee in Atlanta 1964.

This is the 1:52 documentary by PBS “Freedom Summer” which is an amazing recounting of the 700 brave northers who went south to take on racism.

FBI investigation of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner

“Summer in Mississippi” (1965) Director and producer Beryl Fox travelled to Mississippi after the bodies of the three civil rights workers working for the Mississippi Summer Project were found in August 1964.

Jeremi Suri: Civil War, Slavery, Freedom, and Democracy on the Lex Fridman Podcast last week.

Recording of prior Sunday Night Speaker, a prominent political history professor in Charlottesville Virginia, who witnessed the Ku Klux Klan riots in his town and decided that Sunday that God was asking to devote his life to love and justice.

Trailer for film, “Who We Are: Racism in America”

The letter my now famous artist and African-American friend Steve Locke (painting on the cover of this post) when I asked him if we could talk about race: “I Don’t Want To Talk About It”

Amazing talk by Steve Locke at Portland Museum of Art on “doing the work of social justice” referred to above.

Here is the PBS Freedom Summer website with tons of great materials.

The Sunday Night Speaker Series is a welcoming and inclusive group for those who identify as male of all races, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, age or belief who are seeking a more meaningful life.

All speakers will address some aspect of living a life based on spiritual principals. All participants are welcome—sober addicts, active addicts, non-addicts, searchers of any variety or simply men interested in hearing the week’s speaker.

(MEN only please, if you are a woman seeing this message, please pass along to a guy you love. The reason for this group is that men die 6 years earlier than women largely because of isolation—suicide, addiction and a variety of diseases caused by lack of connection. We are literally dying of loneliness. We as men need to learn how to build the kinds of true friendships that women do more naturally to survive. Also, we as men must get our shit together to be better husbands, fathers, and partner with women to face the world’s many challenges. Our speakers each address an aspect of this issue and are intended to inspire male attendees. We also prove a safe space for men to speak from the heart about their challenges)

If you identify as male, I very much hope you will join us live to participate in the discussion. If you don’t identify as male or can’t make it, a recording of dad’s talk (but not the discussion) will be available.

This post was previously published on


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Photo credit: Author (painting above is by Steve Locke, who I admire greatly. I highly recommend you listen to his talk about his work HERE)


The post Again & Again & Again: Male Killer; Black Victim appeared first on The Good Men Project.

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