I made a mistake in my first “giant negroes” post last week. I wrote that a giant Negro had saved the life of a U.S. president.
What actually happened, way back in 1901, was this: James Benjamin Parker – who reportedly stood 6-foot-6 – helped subdue the gunman who shot President McKinley twice at very close range. McKinley died of his wounds a week later.
The assassin was a Polish-American anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. The shooting occurred on September 6, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y.
On September 8, the New York Times published a brief “Story of an Eyewitness.” The man, identified only as a “prominent Exposition official,” said this:
“Quick as was Czolgosz he was not quick enough to fire a third shot. He was seized by a Secret Service man, who stood directly opposite the President, and hurled to the floor. A huge negro leaped upon him as he fell and they rolled over the floor. ...”
The Atlanta Constitution on September 8 made a much bigger deal over Jim Parker’s involvement. The headline read: “Assassin Was Caught By an Atlanta Man. Jim Parker, Negro of This City, Overpowers Anarchist Czolgosz.”
“If I had not grabbed that crazy loon he would have shot again,” Parker said. “I got a strangle hold on his neck that I learned down south.”
Parker had been standing in line, like many others, to shake William McKinley’s hand.
“Just think,” he said, “old father Abe freed me, and now I saved his successor from death, provided that bullet that he fired into the president don’t kill him.”
The Atlanta paper described Parker as “a man of probably 6 feet 3 or 4 inches in stature and... Herculean physique. It is little wonder the president’s assailant was prevented from further violence once the hands of the Atlanta giant were placed upon him.”
Within weeks, however, the Atlanta Constitution was singing a different song.
During the assassin’s hasty trial, a Secret Service agent testified that “I never saw no colored man in the whole fracas.” (Jim Parker was not called to testify.) This led an editorial writer to wonder whether everyone had been “slickly duped” by the smooth-talking colored man “Jim.”
In December of 1901, Mr. Parker received what the Washington Post called “the first official recognition of his brave act” – in the form of a J-O-B.
As the Post reported on December 22: “James B. Parker, the giant negro whose trusty right hand felled the assassin Czolgosz in Buffalo... has been summoned to take a government position.” This was at the behest of presidential assistant George B. Cortelyou and two U.S. senators, among others.
Of course, the only civil-service job black folks could get 100 years ago was as “messengers.” So Mr. Parker became a messenger in Senate.
“My only regret,” Parker said on his way to D.C., “is that when I knocked Czolgosz down I did not bite off an ear or disfigure him in such a way as to furnish facial evidence that could not be questioned.”
According to the Post, Parker had been offered “large sums” to appear at museums or with traveling theatrical companies. But the big man refused.
“It would be against my sense of decency,” Parker is quoted as saying. “There are in this country ten millions of colored citizens, who regard it as an honor that one of their race should be the first to spring to the aid of the stricken President. Many of them have written me, telling me they were proud of me, and I could not after that turn myself into a dime museum freak.”
Way to go, Giant Negro!