Harry Davis Jr. was on the phone with Printice Gary in Dallas last week. They were discussing the epic response to the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis cop on May 25.
Gary and Davis were part of Minneapolis Central’s Class of 1964, which included tremendous athletes who became very successful adults. Davis was known as “Butch” to that group and speaks with love and pride of teammates and classmates of 56 years ago.
For instance: Emerson Carr, one of the first two black football players at the Naval Academy, Marine fighter pilot, industry executive. Eric Eversley, Ph.D., Harvard. And Gary, Carleton grad and MBA from Harvard, one-time member of the University of Texas Board of Regents.
“Printice is a smart guy and said to me, ‘What has happened since the death of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis, the reaction around the globe … our grandchildren are going to grow up in a different world than we did, Butch.’
“This time is different for sure. What we’ve known as black Americans now everyone has seen. Forming committees and words are not enough.
“The eyes of younger generations, black and white, were opened by that video. They realize the same opportunities for black Americans are going to have to come.”
This conversation was taking place Tuesday morning at Hiawatha Golf Course, two miles southeast of the street where Floyd was killed two weeks earlier. A loose organization of black golfers has gathered for league play at Hiawatha for decades.
There were 20-some players, with tee times starting at 10 a.m. I attended one of these outings in June 2019, to write a column on Bob Shelton, the ageless wonder (now 87) of the group.
No celebration this time; just a search for perspective on where we are, where we could be going, in a city and a state these older black men have made home.
Brett McNeal was the first Minnesota basketball player to be coached by Clem Haskins when he was recruited from Minneapolis North to Western Kentucky in 1985. McNeal is now the athletic director at Minneapolis Edison.
“We are all human beings,” McNeal said. “We all are capable of love and compassion for one another. Wise counsel should be the first response for adults, not punishment. There are certain individuals that don’t believe that. Their immediate reaction is to punish.”
McNeal paused, took a sweeping lefthanded swing on the driving range and said: “All change comes from power. The alt-conservative groups have been telling us how they came to power. You can get mad about it, but they are correct.
“And those that are strongly committed to change after George Floyd’s death … the only answer is to take the power.”
Change will come, McNeal said, if not now, eventually. “The younger generations that I work with are a mixed society,” he said. “Absolutely, things will be different when they have power.”
As Printice Gary said to Butch Davis: Their grandkids will live in a different world.
Which isn’t soon enough as the video of Floyd’s killing continues to create outrage around the world.
“I saw video of a man in Syria who had drawn an image honoring George Floyd on a wall,” Davis said. “Even in Syria this was deemed terrible.”
John Henry, an instructor and inventor in technology and electronics, moved to Minneapolis in the ’70s, getting bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the University of Minnesota.
I was talking with Henry before he teed off and suggested the reaction “seemed different” this time because of the clear, gruesome video.
Henry shook his head slightly and said: “The reaction from some is starting to look very familiar to me. We’re hearing about George Floyd’s fentanyl, this and that about the victim, as though that made him a threat, down on the pavement in handcuffs.
“What concerns me is what I would hope concerns reasonable people: a license to kill with impunity.”
John Henderson, the former Viking, is a regular on Tuesdays. He brought along his grandson Noah Layton, a Benilde-St. Margaret’s graduate headed to Columbia University to play football and get an Ivy League education.
“Younger people see race differently,” Layton said. “Look at 18-to-25 voting. We believe in equality. Look at the peaceful protests with thousands of blacks and whites marching together. I have confidence in us.”
Davis’ father, Harry, ran for Minneapolis mayor vs. incumbent Charles Stenvig in 1971 and was decisively defeated. As the first black candidate for the office, there were enough threats that the Davis family home had security from the city leading up to the election.
“As baby boomers, what we went through with the assassinations, and in the ’70s, I thought we had seen it all,” Harry Jr. said Tuesday. “I thought we might be turning the corner. But the George Floyd tragedy tells me we have a long way to go.”