Sunday, February 22, 2009

Speaking of racism, recently (while in Columbus, Ohio) I’ve found some confirmation that a part of Hunter S. Thompson’s childhood involved little race wars. That’s right. Now, Thompson is a beloved gadfly to me which makes this all the more distressing and puzzling. I first chanced upon this unsavory aspect of his early life in the recent book Gonzo (compiled by Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour), a couple of years ago; my denial had persisted ever since.

“Hunter would go over to another friend’s house, and behind the street where this friend lived was Bear Grass Creek and a culvert. A lot of African Americans lived on the other side of the creek. Hunter and his group would shoot these guys with BB guns and hurl racial insults, and the black guys would finally have enough and swarm down into the culvert and up the wall, and Hunter and the others would retreat into their friend’s house and hide. They’d start these little mini-race wars.” (Neville Blakemore, quoted on p. 5)

In Columbus (to be specific, the Easton Town Center), I picked up a cheap copy of E. Jean Carroll’s book Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson. It appears biographical but it is quite apparent that Thompson himself may have been the author, although it quotes his friends and acquaintances — which were legion.

Blakemore is quoted here, too, and the friend in question is named Walter Kaegi. Blakemore is quoted as saying: “the thing I remember about going over to Walter Kaegi’s when we were about ten or eleven is that Hunter used to say, ‘Let’s go over to Kaegi’s and fight the niggers’” (p. 18). He added: “for some reason there were black guys on the other side of the culvert. I don’t know if they lived there or not. But there would be taunts and bricks and stuff thrown. And then somebody would charge” (p. 19).

Gerald Tyrrell gives this account more corroboration (quoted in the same page): “Beargrass Creek was a concrete culvert going through Louisville. And black dudes would be walking down there and we would ambush them. We’d have BB guns with us. When they’d come down the creek, we’d shoot at them. And well, of course, the result was absolutely predictable. They’d come boiling up out of the creek, and they’re much bigger than us. They’re black guys, and, of course, we’d run like mad, screaming and hollering, into Walter Kaegi’s house and lock the door. And we’d hide in there.

“And that became part of the Hunter mythology. ‘Let’s go shoot ’em in the creek!’”

Here’s one fan of Thompson that hopes it’s just a myth.

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