Born Into A World Of Enemies
Ken Hutcherson was born eight days after his mother’s fifteenth birthday in Anniston, Alabama. The year was 1952. His grandmother, who Ken called “Big Mom,” was the true mother figure in his life. Ken says his biological mother was more like a sister to him. His father lived on the “right side of the tracks” and wasn’t involved in Ken’s life. He was an illegitimate black child in a world that looked down on blacks. And even other blacks looked down on illegitimate blacks.
Ken’s Role Model (Not The Role Model You Were Expecting)
With his grandmother as his only source of stability, one of Ken’s role models was the person who lived next door. This person ran the “local liquor house.” This role model was distinguished by a long scar that ran across the right side of the neck. This person didn’t take any flack from the liquor store patrons or from anybody else. According to Ken Hutcherson this person was the toughest person he ever knew.
This person was Ken’s Aunt Mae.
The cause of the scar was a woman named Essie Mae who lived across the street. Aunt Mae was having an affair with Essie Mae’s husband. And typical of Aunt Mae, she didn’t care who knew about it. Naturally Essie Mae objected and she said some disparaging things about Aunt Mae around the neighborhood. But when Aunt Mae heard about Essie Mae’s comments she wasn’t inclined to put up with it. Aunt Mae downed a shot of whiskey and marched across the street to confront her. Essie Mae answered the door with a straight razor in her hand. They had words. Essie Mae told Aunt Mae to leave or she’d cut her. Aunt Mae held her ground. So Essie Mae followed through on her promise and cut Aunt Mae from behind her right ear to the front of her neck. The wound was gaping. There was blood everywhere. But wounded though she was, Aunt Mae beat Essie Mae. Then she ordered Essie Mae’s husband to pack his bags and to leave his wife and come home with her. And he did.
When they arrived home, Aunt Mae downed another drink, went into the back yard and poured kerosene on her gaping wound. Then she sewed herself up with a needle and black thread.
Hutcherson says he learned how to make people show respect from his Aunt Mae. He said to himself, “If Aunt Mae could be tough and get respect, then I could be tough and get respect.”
When Ken Hutcherson was growing up in Alabama the presence of prejudice was still strong. Ken’s grandfather worked hard all week, putting up with abuse from his white bosses. But every weekend he got drunk and stayed drunk, and took out his frustrations by beating Ken’s grandmother, “Big Mom.”
During that time all policemen were white. All judges were white. A black person was supposed to look down at the ground in the presence of a white person. A black person couldn’t eat in the same room as the white people in a restaurant. There were three bathrooms in most businesses in those days: Mens, Womens, and “Coloreds.” Nearly everyone featured on television and in magazines, was white. The world was about whites, and against blacks. Hutcherson took this to mean the world was against him, personally.
The Klan was active too, in those days. They sometimes stopped in front of Ken Hutcherson’s house to tell them that one day, they would catch one of them alone somewhere, and hang them.
His “Big Mom’s” Death And How He Hated (Even Martin Luther King)
When Ken was eight, his “Big Mom” died. “She worried (herself) to death,” he said. “My grandfather, with all the fighting, with all the drinking, never having enough money: it got to the point where she had a massive stroke.”
His grandmother’s passing was too much for Ken. She was the only Christian person in his life, and Ken believed she was the only one who loved him. It was at this point, at the age of eight, that he says he divorced himself from society. And it was at this point that hate really began to fuel his drive.
Hutcherson said, he vowed to himself that he was not going to be poor and that, “As soon as I could get power and money, I’m going to kill me some white people.”
He decided he was going to make himself better than any man, black or white. So, he says, “I read and studied, and read and studied, and read and studied.”
Everything fueled by hate.
In the course of his studies and from listening to the radio he learned about Martin Luther King. But he didn’t respond to King the way you might expect: “I hated Martin Luther King. I mean, hated him with a passion. He came up with this nonviolent way. That reminded me of what I saw in my grandfather, what I saw in my uncle, what I saw in the men around me, when they wouldn’t stand up to white people. Stokely Carmichael was my man. Eldridge Cleaver, burn those suckers up. Burn baby burn.”
Ken Hutcherson was fueled by hate. He hated Martin Luther King. He hated the people in his family. And he especially hated whites. And he craved the opportunity to use violence against them.
Ken’s Savior (Not The Savior You Were Expecting)
Ken Hutcherson was a child prodigy baseball player. By the time he was thirteen he was playing with the adult men on a black professional baseball team. People paid to see the thirteen year old kid who could hit and play any position on the field. When he was fifteen he was invited to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals.
But even though baseball was by far his best sport, Ken chose to focus on football. Because around this time schools in Alabama were just beginning to integrate, and Ken was able to attend a white high school near his home. Which meant that on the football field he could hurt a white kid, and instead of going to jail, coaches would pat him on the back.
“I liked playing football. So I gave up baseball, for the simple reason, it was the only way I could hurt white people legally and get away with it.”
He even made a sign for his locker that said, “Break up one white boy a day.” He said he did that because he had learned from Aunt Mae, if you want a reputation, you’ve got to be the baddest thing in the jungle. (His coach eventually made him change the sign.)
Football, Hutcherson says, was his savior.
On the football field everyone was equal regardless of color. And on the football field, he could be as mean as he wanted to be.
A twenty-something I know from Mississippi once said to a mutual friend that we Northerners don’t care what station in life a black person attains, as long as they don’t live near us. And Southerners don’t care if black people live nearby, as long as they don’t attain too high a station in life. Of course that’s a stereotype in itself and obviously there are many exceptions. But when Ken was in high school for many white people in Alabama, the second part of that statement was true. And Ken Hutcherson was succeeding both academically and athletically. And a large group of white people didn’t like it. White parents complained. The Klu Klux Klan made threats. But his enemies didn’t quite know what to do with him. Ken Hutcherson had continued his pattern of reading and studying and was one of the top students in the school, so they couldn’t flunk him out. They didn’t know what to do.
So they resorted to violence. The night before his junior year homecoming football game, three white teammates waited for Ken along the road he took to walk home. Ken didn’t have a problem with that, he was ready to take on all three. But what he didn’t know was there were twenty more hiding, waiting for the right moment to move in.
As Ken turned to talk to two black friends who were walking away (the only two black people nearby) someone hit him in the back with a brick. It knocked the wind out of him and he went down. Suddenly twenty three white young men were kicking him, and breaking bones in the process. Somehow Ken managed to get up and run. And as he did, he said he could hear rocks whizzing past his head. He ran and yelled to his two black friends to run too.
The crowd of white young men pursued. Someone yelled, “We’re gonna kill you nigger!” They pursued but they pursued a little too far. When they came to the edge of the black community the local pool hall emptied. Suddenly the tables were turned. Now a crowd of black men was chasing the crowd of whites.
So Ken escaped that night but the beating resulted in three fractured ribs. He could hardly breathe but the next day he played in the game anyway–for revenge, he said. And he had one of his best games ever. He hurt a number of white players on the other team too.
But afterwards he was coughing up blood. They took him to the ER where xrays showed his coaches what he already knew: his ribs were fractured.
The Car Wreck (Not The Outcome You Were Expecting)
In his junior year, while riding as a passenger on a motorcycle, Ken was struck by a car driven by a drunk white young man. His left leg required five hours of surgery and the doctor told him he’d never play football again. And here’s the part where we’re supposed to learn how the car wreck took Ken’s savior (football) away, and that’s how God finally got his attention. But that’s not what happened.
What happened was Ken couldn’t stand the thought of a white doctor telling him what he couldn’t do. So he worked and he worked and he worked until he was finally able to play his senior year. And although he had to wear some special equipment to protect his left leg, he played great. Ken was back. All the way back.
But this is what he said about that time in his life, “Everyone was patting me on the back. Things were going great. And I am so miserable. Something is so missing. White people I hate. Black people I hate. It’s me I hate. I want to be the king of the jungle, but I don’t even like me. You’ve got success. You’re back. Colleges are saying they’re watching you. But you’re miserable. What’s wrong with you?”
It was at this time Ken says he realized that he was no longer controlling his hatred, but his hatred was controlling him. And he was becoming more vicious than ever.
Around that time he was sitting in an assembly at school in the midst of about 2,000 other students listening to a speaker. Ken said, something the speaker said, was like a knife in his heart. And what he said brought God to Ken’s mind. Ken remembered how his grandmother, his “Big Mom” was a Christian, and how through all the trouble and all the pain her God was always there for her. He remembered some words about God spoken on television by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans when their young daughter died unexpectedly.
These thoughts were suddenly flooding Ken’s mind when he says he heard God say,
“You can’t run from Me.”
(Not an audible voice, Ken says. No vision. God didn’t come in a halo. Just a quiet voice.)
Then Ken spoke to God and said, “God, if You’re real, You said, through Roy and Dale, that I might have to accept You one of these days. I don’t know anything about You but I’m going to give You a shot at me. And if I am a Christian–I think that’s what they call it–I’m going to be the best. You have become my coach. I understand I’m supposed to know the coach’s play book. And I’m supposed to run the play the way You wrote it. So, if I can make it out of this place without my heart stopping, I’m going to go home and find a Bible.”
“I got a new Savior.
“And in a quiet still voice, he said,
“‘Don’t you ever think you can hate anybody who I died for.'”
- After he came to Christ Ken learned that there were two white male classmates who, like most other white classmates, were terrified of him. But they had been praying for God to bring Ken to Christ for three years before his conversion.
- After becoming a Christian black people started hating Ken because after they noticed his love for whites, they perceived him as an Uncle Tom. White people still hated Ken because of his history of hatred and violence toward them.
- Before his last high school game the Klu Klux Klan threatened his life. They said they would have snipers at the game and they would kill him.
- Ken went on to star in college and he played in the NFL for five years.
- After he was in the NFL, Ken sought out his biological father. He took him for a walk in the woods. He says, “We walked into the woods as father and son. We walked out of the woods brothers in Christ. I led my dad to the Lord.”
- At an auction selling one of the descendants of Trigger, Ken found Roy Rogers and told him that one of the reasons the Lord took his daughter was to save Ken’s soul. Roy Rogers wept.
- Ken Hutcherson married a white woman of German descent. They had four children.
- From 1985 until 2013 Ken served as the senior Pastor of the multicultural Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, Washington. Sixty-five percent of his congregation was white.
- Ken Hutcherson battled prostate and bone cancer for 13 years before passing away in 2013. Before he died he said, “Cancer is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. There’s nothing that can touch me that’s not filtered through the hands of God. What cancer has done is given me an absolute focus on Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.” (Wikipedia)
References and Resources:
I am Second – Ken Hutcherson on Youtube
HT to my friend Fred Saada of the Rogue Valley Chaplains Association who turned me on to Ken’s story.