“For my Dad, Gary, who was an honorable Policeman.”
Illustrator Craig Orback’s dedication to his father, longtime San Luis Obispo police officer Gary Orback, in "Hot Pursuit: Murder in Mississippi" could not be more timely.
The United States has been dramatically changed over the last 50 years. No one living in 1964 could have foreseen the election of Barak Obama as president.
Some issues surrounding racial tension are still with us, as last summer’s death of Eric Garner on Staten Island and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, demonstrate.
The summer of 1964 had its racially charged deaths: Those of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, in Neshoba County, Mississippi.
The three civil rights workers were murdered on the night of June 21, thanks to collusion by members of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff's Office and the Philadelphia, Mississippi, Police Department.
Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon have written a powerful fifth-grade level book on the murders, "Hot Pursuit." It’s a very realistic telling of a tragic story of collusion between racist law enforcement and the Klan, brought to life by the illustrations by Craig Orback, who grew up in San Luis Obispo.
Recently, retired Sgt. Gary Orback described a more positive interaction with law enforcement, one at a concert with rock’n’roll pioneer Chuck Berry:
“In 1979 I was the officer in charge of the SLO County Juvenile Task Force, a state grant funded program to work against alcohol and drugs through enforcement and educational efforts.
“The San Luis Obispo County Commission on Children and Youth had somehow arranged for Chuck Berry to come to San Luis Obispo to do a fundraising concert. Some members of the Juvenile Task Force volunteered to provide security for the concert.
“During the ‘70s the IRS had conducted an investigation into Chuck Berry for not reporting some of his concert earnings. He pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to four months in prison and 1,000 hours of community service.
“He then began traveling around the country alone doing benefit concerts to complete that obligation. He used a local band at each venue that knew his songs.
“On Sunday, Sept. 21, 1979, I was at the rear entrance of the Veterans Hall when Chuck Berry arrived in a rental car to perform. He had played another concert at the California Youth Authority facility in Paso Robles earlier that day. He had no entourage or band with him. A local band played backup for him.
“I expected him to put on a short, uninspired performance since he was under court orders to complete his public service hours. He took the stage with his guitar and proceeded to belt out his many hits and other songs. The concert was sold out and the crowd’s appreciation and enthusiasm grew.
“Near the end many in the audience began to jump on stage and we had get up on it with Chuck Berry and the band to remove them. There was no real violence, only unbridled appreciation for the great show he put on.
“At the end he had sweat pouring off his face and looked exhausted. I escorted him to his vehicle and shook his hand, thanking him for a great show. He got into his car and drove away. I can see why he is one of the all-time greats of rock’n’roll.”
Gary’s account is one of those “only in San Luis Obispo” stories, just like the annual Martin Luther King Scholarship Chicken Barbecue. It’s on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Elks Lodge. Tickets cost $10. You can “take-out” or “dine in.”
Needy graduating seniors from San Luis Obispo high schools, of all ethnic backgrounds, have benefited from the scholarships. It often makes a critical difference in the lives of those students.