Sunday, December 14, 2003

Where were the crowds at Pillow service?

Peter Bronson

Edgar Pillow and Nathaniel Jones both died violently and were buried less than a week apart. Between the lines of their lives is a story of our city's past, present and future.

One spent his life working to leave the world a better place. The other reopened wounds and left behind a cloud of anger.

On Dec. 6, only 70 people paid their respects to Pillow, a civil rights leader, decorated World War II veteran, beloved father and respected leader in Cincinnati's black community.

A few days later, more than 500 people jammed into a service for Nathaniel Jones, who died on drugs, fighting with police.

"I expected a full house, with all the people who said they admired and loved my father,'' said Keith Pillow, 39, of Los Angeles. "To be honest, it's just kind of typical. People go to a funeral for someone who fought with the police while he was high on drugs. But for someone who devoted his whole life to strengthening the community, you can't get out of bed.''

Much ink has been spilled on Jones. People should know more about the 78-year-old Edgar Pillow.

"If someone had a battle that needed to be fought, he was there,'' said his son.

He remembers how his father sacrificed lucrative job offers to stay true to his principles.

He started a free-lunch program, gave money to needy neighbors and crusaded against injustice in syndicated Cincinnati Herald columns.

Police have charged Pillow's step-grandson, Michael Meridy Jr., 19, with killing him..

Keith, no blood relation, described Meridy as a good student at Roger Bacon High School - until he began wearing "those gangster-thug clothes'' and was kicked out of school.

"The irony in this situation - you couldn't get any more black and white,'' he said. "My father was always positive. His message was education and self-reliance. Rely on your self to take care of problems rather than complaining about white people. There is racism. But we need to focus on our own responsibility.''

But old-school lessons no longer apply, Pillow said.

"I believe conditions for black people in this country are worse than ever.

"But at least half the responsibility for that falls on black people.

"The priorities are all messed up, and this story shows it,'' he said. "My father suffered all those injustices to give us a chance to excel. And instead, now we glorify this gangster-hood thing.''

Pillow is not the only one who saw the irony.

Michael Howard, executive director of Justice Watch, said he went to Edgar Pillow's funeral and refused to be part of the Nathaniel Jones service.

"Instead of talking about the police chief stepping down, we should be asking when is the black community going to step up,'' he said.

There are many courageous voices like that in Cincinnati. But they are drowned out by the protesters who never mention Edgar Pillow and 54 other local blacks killed this year allegedly by members of their own race.

At Pillow's funeral, the Rev. Damon Lynch Jr., father of the boycott leader, said Edgar Pillow was a hero because he never sought cameras, headlines and fame.

"He said my father was a man who left more than he took,'' said Keith Pillow.

"That sums it all up. I'm glad to have had such a man to raise me. I don't waste my time waving flags and fighting for people who take drugs and attack the police.''

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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