MUHAMMAD: Amiri Baraka and a Woman Named 'Cookie' at the Whisky a Go Go
Askia Muhammad | 1/29/2014, 3 p.m.
I don’t know if the dearly departed Poet Laureate and Black literary genius Amiri Baraka would have ever even gone to the world famous Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Strip in Hollywood. He was always such a literary savant, Beat Poet, and coffeehouse-trend-setter, the idea of him in a discothèque, especially one where scantily clad women danced in cages, just does not compute.
While I grew up in Los Angeles, I probably would never have gone there myself, except that in 1968 after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I was offered an internship at Newsweek magazine. I worked that summer in the Los Angeles bureau, and since I was working for one of the news industry’s famous “Seven Sisters – ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek,” I viewed myself as much more cosmopolitan than the kid who left L.A. two years earlier to study journalism at San Jose State University. So I figured I owed it to myself to visit, at least one time, the famous birthplace of the disco movement.
Everything was different in 1968. We were still called Negroes. I was still C.K. Moreland Jr., Kwame Ture was still Stokely Carmichael, and Amiri Baraka was still LeRoi Jones. While at NW I met poet Quincy Troupe, and contributed two poems to his first anthology: Watts Writers and Poets. I joined a writers’ workshop led by Louise Merriweather. I interviewed Jose Feliciano. When I called the vice presidents of Fortune 500 corporations, they called me back. I was calling from Newsweek; I never had to stoop to do my thing. I was, as we say, “picking in high cotton.”
When I went to the disco that Sunday evening, I met a woman there whose name was “Cookie.” For the rest of the summer, I kept company with Cookie.
Cookie introduced me to many new things. She also took me to the home of a man I had known 12-13 years earlier, when we were both playing Little League baseball at Ross Snyder Park. His name was Paul Mossett. By the summer 1968 when I was a budding reporter, Paul was a lieutenant in the Black Panther Party.
Because I first came to his house at 111th and Grape Streets in Watts with Cookie, and because he remembered me from Ross Snyder playground, I was permitted to come around often. L.A. Black Panther Party immortals, Erika Huggins, and Bunchy Carter were often there when I went to see Cookie.
One day when I went there after work, there were three police cars parked outside Paul’s house. The cars were all empty and there were no cops in sight. I went inside and told Paul. He peeked out of a window, and it seems that before I could sit down (without a weapon of course); Party members were passing out shotguns and taking positions by the windows and doors. I imagined that I was going to die there and that the headlines would read: “Newsweek reporter killed in Black Panther shootout.”