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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In the early days of their friendship, Franklin said, he and McIntosh were only interested in the things all young men seem to be concerned with: girls, nightclubs, having a good time and looking sharp. Their work as waiters brought them in contact with Arkansas's high rollers, helping McIntosh build some of the contacts he'd call on later in life. McIntosh's philanthropic streak started early; he started collecting toys for the needy in the early 1970s. Franklin said that it was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, however, that turned McIntosh's eye toward trying to be a force for change.

"At that particular point, that's when he started getting involved," Franklin said. "He'd had a chance to meet executive people — lawyers like Bill Walker and Sonny Walker, and all those type of men — who would say 'Hey man, don't take no whatever.' They endorsed him whenever he would get into it. People like Dr. [Jerry] Jewell and others that knew him would try to help him because of his kind heart."

Franklin said that McIntosh often served as a voice to express the feelings of more well-connected men in the black community. "They couldn't act out like him, but Say, somebody like him (would say): 'I'll go down there and say it! I'll go down and stand on the chief's desk!' " Franklin said. "We knew all those people, firsthand. As the old saying is always said: 'Boy, if you'll keep your feet out of the grave, I can keep you out of the pen!' "

While hard proof of those relationships isn't the kind of thing anybody would have written down, McIntosh did seem to have angels on his shoulder during all his long years as a political gadfly and activist, finding funding to re-open his famous restaurant time and again despite financial difficulties, and repeatedly dodging serious jail time and penalties for various incidents, both personal and political. A January 1984 story in the Arkansas Gazette marveled over the fact that he'd only been fined a total of $1 for his last seven arrests.   

Franklin said that McIntosh told him in later years that at least some of his most colorful run-ins with politicians were actually paying gigs, with McIntosh compensated well to serve as a foil or "create a scene."

"A lot of that stuff he was doing, most of the time, he was getting paid to do it," Franklin said. "It wasn't an act out of his own character or just being mean. It was just something for publicity ... It was a political thing — just to show a racial [angle]. But none of that is within his heart anywhere. He's kind to everybody."

Franklin's recollections bring to mind one of the most famous incidents of McIntosh's career: the June 1990 episode in which McIntosh punched out political candidate Ralph Forbes. McIntosh had scheduled a press event with Forbes on KARK, Ch. 4, in which he said he said he would endorse Forbes — a KKK sympathizer and former devotee of the American Nazi Party — as a candidate for lieutenant governor. While McIntosh did eventually give that endorsement, he first slugged Forbes several times in the head on live TV, later telling reporters it was because Forbes had tried to stop him from burning the American flag.


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