Say McIntosh: The lion in winter 

Robert "Say" McIntosh is older, quieter and calmer these days, but he's lived a life full of personal and political drama.

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It seems those early sips of attention planted a seed in McIntosh, showing him how the interest of the press could be shaped to his will. The next year, he pulled the first of many media stunts, dumping empty beer and whiskey bottles in the offices of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to protest the on-premises sale of liquor near his restaurant. The following year he made the paper again by interrupting a dinner honoring volunteerism to make the point that no blacks were being honored. From there, he was off to the races.

By the mid-1980s, the library's alphabetized, indexed list of newspaper stories containing the name "Robert 'Say' McIntosh" often runs a full page of tiny type. He hounded Bill Clinton mercilessly about various policies and personal shortcomings (reportedly while on the payroll of assorted Clinton-haters), filling his flyers with scandalous allegations about Clinton. In January 1984, McIntosh attempted to chop down a tree planted in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. at the state Capitol with an axe. He posed as a bum on Pleasant Valley Drive in 1982 to prove that people ignored the public drunk. When the Ku Klux Klan came to town, he threw them a barbecue. In July 1981, he hung himself from a cross at the Capitol to protest Gov. Frank White's refusal to meet with him, and almost died from heat stroke.

Interspersed with his reporter-bait stunts were glimpses of his personal demons: bankruptcy, arrests, assaults, his hair-trigger propensity to let his fists do the talking; a 1999 incident in which he allegedly doused his son with a pan of scalding grease. Scattered amongst it all is what I suspect to be the whole point of why McIntosh tried to stay in the papers in the first place: his attempts to make blacks care about their neighborhoods; to curb black-on-black crime; to bankroll his program to provide free breakfasts to hungry children on their way to school.

Seen Big Picture, it adds up to the portrait of a man curving the media in the direction he wanted it to go, for ends both selfish and philanthropic; helping sell papers full of stories about the crazy black man from Little Rock who would say or do any damn fool thing, and getting stories about his personal crusades printed in return. Robert "Say" McIntosh, high school dropout and street-fighting man: bending the news cycle of a whole city through pressure and the steam heat of his passion.

Tommy McIntosh said that he has always been proud of his brother for standing up. Tommy is the baby of the McIntosh family's 11 children, 7 girls and 4 boys. He was the first child born in Little Rock after the McIntosh family moved to Central Arkansas from Mississippi County, and the first born in a hospital. He said his father usually worked two or three jobs to provide for his family, sometimes doing landscaping in the evenings after working all day.

"My father worked at Kroger from 6 to 3 and then he would go to Big Rock — that was Minnesota Mining down on Arch Street — and he would work from 5 to 5," McIntosh said. "He did that, and you know what? We ended up getting our first house. That's what he did to get it. He'd be driving, and he'd go to sleep at the stop sign. I'd nudge him and he'd go on."


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