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Fallen Comrades: Walter Collins
By Jeanne Friedman
It is with great sadness that I write to let you know that our long-ago friend and comrade in the civil rights, anti-draft and amnesty movements, Walter Collins, died in New Orleans on September 3rd, 1995.
As you may know, I've been tenacious in the last few years about re-establishing ties with old movement friends. And I was especially looking forward to seeing Walter again when I was in New Orleans earlier this month. I'd spoken with him about five years ago, but the reconnection didn't "take," and we fell out of touch again. I was confident he could always be found through his mom and their family's long-time home on Fig Street.
I had a heartbreaking talk with Virginia, who had to tell me of her youngest son's death - Walter had had sinus problems for many years, and was ill for a year with what was finally diagnosed as cancer of the pharynx. My friends tell me this is a dreadful form of cancer - hard to diagnose or treat.
Walter was barely 50 years old. He was brilliant, articulate and argumentative. I first met him in the basement of a house in Toronto, at a conference of American GI and draft resisters. The first night we were there, he talked literally all night about U.S. imperialism in Vietnam and in the Black Nation - the first time I understood the connection.
Several years later, a carful of us went on a trip through the South. He took us from Little Rock down through the Delta and into Alabama - from the old South to the "new" in Atlanta.
We saw his Black Nation - the clinic at Mound Bayou, the towns of the Delta, the community organizations, the county that had recently elected a Black sheriff. I'd been asleep in the back seat, and woke up in the parking lot behind the county jail. I must have looked terrified. Walter just grinned - "nothing to worry about, you're in Lowndes County." You could feel his joy.
Several years later, Walter and I and then 5-year-old Nat drove from New Orleans to Miami. I can't remember now why we made that trip, probably just for the fun of talking for all those boring miles. When we got to Miami, I marveled at how much unpleasant attention we'd managed to receive. Walter told me I'd never understand the South.
Walter thought he was great with kids - after all, he had so many nieces and nephews. But he told everyone (kids and adults) what to do about pretty much everything - which Nat didn't like. By the end of the trip though, he was won over, and quite seriously told me that Walter really did know everything.
I don't know so many people these days who know everything; I, for one, know less and less about more and more. Perhaps Walter was the same in recent years. I'd like to think that he would have retained his devastatingly simple way of making connections. I'll miss him.