“If I’m right, if Charles is right, and this works—this new anti-power FBI deal—how long do you think that nice neighborhood of yours stays nice? If they can do it to us, take down the power groups that just got started, why do you think they stop there? Why don’t they go after King, next, maybe after they get Malcolm and —”
Early on, a year or so ago, I just had this idea: Otis Redding and Elvis Presley are Memphis’ top superheroes. So I started reading about Memphis, and watching documentaries, and talking to people I knew who were from Memphis or thereabouts. And — to change the subject briefly — in the process, I discovered “Accent Tag” videos, which are awesome in a whole bunch of ways, never mind the central purpose — just getting a feel for how people from a region talk:
So that’s what I did for a few months, while occasionally jotting down ideas, and during that few months, the fact that I was writing about Memphis in 1968 had presented the obvious as a subject: Martin Luther King’s final visit to the city in early April, and his assassination. I’d started reading and watching and asking and etc. about that in much more depth than I had previously.
I knew I had a story when I found out about the Invaders:
- “Former Sanitation Worker and Community Organizers Recall the 1968 “I Am A Man” Sanitation Worker Strike & King’s Last Hours in Memphis” (Charles Cabbage, founder and head of the Invaders, featured)
- “1968 Events Bear Marks Of The Invaders”
- FBI memo on stirring up popular resentment against the Invaders.
- “Charles Cabbage – former Invaders co-founder – dies at 66”
- “Activist Charles Cabbage a voice of reason”
Superhero story details to the aside — clearly, Little Wing, former teen sidekick to the Mississippi Kite, did not join up with the Invaders after getting his consciousness raised with a billy club — I’ve presented the Invaders in “Finest Kind” pretty much as they were in real life, as best I could. They aren’t as well known or documented as other black power groups of the period — in no small part because, as in the story, they were largely blamed for the protest march riots that brought Dr. King back to Memphis to negotiate with the local authorities over a second march. Following King’s assassination, they were blamed even more widely for his death, and the Invaders dissolved fairly quickly after, its remaining membership absorbed by other power and radical groups later on.
I decided to give them a better ending than that, maybe, is the one great liberty I did take with the Invaders in “Finest Kind.” But the circumstances that drive the parts of the plot that involve Wing and the Invaders are all real — the organization was meeting constantly with King in those final days, the FBI harassment mentioned in the story is real, as it was with other power groups at the time, etc.
P.S. Fun fact: the Invaders took their name from the Roy Thinnes science fiction TV show I mentioned in the last “Things I didn’t make up for 666ties” post. Writing is full of these Plate of Shrimp moments, I find…