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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McIntosh said that along with a strong work ethic, his father and mother instilled in their children another quality that would come into play in Robert McIntosh's life as an activist: a belief that it was always right to stand up for yourself, especially if you wanted respect. To illustrate his point, Tommy McIntosh recalls an incident when he was in the fourth grade in which a man called his father "boy."

"My father looked at him — he was 40 years old, I never will forget it — and he said: 'I'm 40 years old. How old do you have to be before you're a man?' " McIntosh said. "That's when my father was working at Kroger, and [the man] called my father 'Mr. McIntosh' from that day on."

Tommy said that Robert was the most even-tempered and hardest to provoke of all the McIntosh children, a trait he shared with their father. He said that made the incidents in which Robert was involved in physical fights as an adult a bit shocking to him.

"I think he wanted to prove a point," Tommy said. "He tried to show other people that you stand up for what you believe, no matter what it is. If you believe it, you stand up for it, and don't back down off of it. A lot of people took it wrong, but that's what he was doing. I believe to this day the reason things are as they are is because people just sit back and let it happen. We let things just happen — all people, not just black people."

Tommy said that one of the reasons his brother was able to say and do the things he did was because he always worked for himself, and didn't have to worry about losing his job. Though he said his brother's restaurant business went "up and down" because of his outspokenness — and that the black community was often as displeased with Robert as the white community over the things he did — respect was always more important than money to Robert.

Tommy said that the proof his brother was often right lies in the fact that many of the things he tried to do — from cleaning up the community to feeding poor children free breakfasts to help them do better in school — are considered common and accepted today.

"What my brother was trying to do was to try and teach people that they need to work for themselves and they need to learn to stand up," he said. "If you stand up, you might encourage someone else to stand. That's one of the things I appreciate that my brother did: he stood. A lot of it, people considered foolishness. But if you go back and think about it, it made a difference. I really do believe that one day, he's going to be considered, in a breath, a black leader here in Little Rock. One day, people will speak of him and the things he did and won't be laughing about it."

Earnest Franklin was Say McIntosh's best friend in his teen-age years and serves as the spokesman for McIntosh's "Say Stop the Violence" campaign. He said that even the more flamboyant things McIntosh did were, at their core, always about bringing attention to problems in the black community. Franklin and McIntosh became friends around 1962, when both were working as waiters at Franke's. McIntosh was always dressed to the nines when he wasn't at work, Franklin remembers, sometimes changing clothes two or three times a day. He said McIntosh got the nickname "Say," because of his tendency to get loud during arguments. "They'd say: 'Say, say, say, say, hold it!' " Franklin said. "That's really the only way you could calm him down because he's always been a real hyper person who doesn't mind fighting. If you push him in a corner, he's coming out."


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