The Genealogy of Kwami Abdul-Bey
I remember that day very clearly, I was in the 8th grade at Pulaski Heights Junior High School. My brothers and I had recently returned to Little Rock from living with our father in for a year in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. We had gone to the Skaggs Albertson grocery store on Markham Street for our weekly grocery excursion. My younger brother and I were doing our usual running around. I had a thing where I would try to sneak items that I wanted into the basket without our mother seeing them. This particular time she caught me. She called me my younger brother’s name, then my older brother’s name, and then “Boy!” Me being the smart ass that I am, I replied, “My name is Frank!”
My mother immediately stopped and with a very strange look on her face and asked in a quiet voice, “What did you just say?” And, I loudly repeated myself: “My name is Frank!” My mother turned white, and I saw a tear roll down her left cheek. She said, “”Oh my God! We have to go!” And, we ended up leaving the grocery store. We got in the car and drove in complete silence. I was trying to figure out what I did wrong and how I obviously upset my mother. We went over to my grandmother’s house and when we got inside, my mother told her mother what had happened. And, that is when I first learned about my grandmother’s father–my great-grandfather–Frank Dixon, who had mysteriously disappeared when she was a child. But, that was all I was told, and I left it at that. One thing that it did for me is sparked my interest in disappearances and human spontaneous combustion.
During my 11th grade year at Little Rock Central High School, I usually invested about 3-4 hours at the Central Arkansas Library downtown just hanging out and conducting random research projects. During one of those, I learned about the 1927 hanging of John Carter and how it was connected to the 1927 execution of Lonnie Dixon. Reading further, I learned that Lonnie Dixon was the son of a Frank Dixon who mysteriously disappeared. In my mind, I made the connection and immediately left the library and walked over to my grandmother’s house.
When I got there, I asked her who was Lonnie Dixon and is he related to her. This was the very first time in my life that I had ever seen my grandmother weep. She hugged me and whispered in my ear that Lonnie was her older brother. I hugged her back tightly and kissed her and apologized for bringing it up. Nothing else was ever said in the matter before my grandmother died several years later.
In 2001, I was living in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and had recently self-published my first book, “THE TABLES HAVE TURNED: A Street Guide to Guerrilla Lawfare. I was traveling nationally on the lecture circuit for the book. I was in Chicago, left there for Washington, D.C., and then went to Los Angeles. At the airport in Washington, D.C., I needing something to read because I accidentally left my two books in Chicago. I went into the airport bookstore and purchased “Blood In Their Eyes” by Grif Stockley solely on the basis that it has an cool title and cover art that grabbed my attention and curiosity. And, the book was such a good read for me that I completed it before landing in Los Angeles. The thing that got my attention the most was the chapter in the book that discussed Lonnie and Frank Dixon.
When I left Los Angeles headed back to Virginia, I changed my flight plans so that I could stop in Little Rock. I had learned that Grif was an Arkansas attorney. I went to his house and knocked on his door and introduced myself to him and told him who I was. We hugged and I thanked him to writing the book and told him that I wanted to honor him by turning the book into a feature film entitled, “If We Must Die.” He thanked me and told me that I had his full blessings to do so. I have not yet been able to raised the money for the film. Yet, I did get both Maya Angelou and Ving Rhames to verbally commit to working on the project with me. But, now after Clarice and I went to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice last year, we have a joint goal of essentially doing for Arkansas, specifically, in honor of both of our blood ties to this history, what Bryan Stevenson has done for the national and the world, generally, through his work at EJI.
Kwami Abdul-Bey, May 9, 2019