Back to Attica

Oct 10, 2001 at 12:00 am

It’s amazing how many people around here have connections to the man who called himself Shango. The Detroiter, who was born Bernard Stroble, took center stage at the Attica prison uprising and a subsequent trial 30 years ago. His defense team was led by Detroiters, and when he was finally released from prison, he resettled here until his untimely death. The trial recently became the subject of a Showtime movie, The Killing Yard.

The recent media attention has taken Huntington Woods resident Alex Cooper back to Christmas morning, 1965. He was 10 years old when a relative was shot in the face during a robbery of his grandfather’s Hamtramck jewelry store.

Cooper remembers listening to accounts of the robbery on the radio. “That was my first experience with Bernard Stroble,” said Cooper, referring to the gunman.

Ten years later, Cooper was working at the now-defunct Monteith College at Wayne State when the student board he sat on held a fundraiser for the Attica Defense Fund and showed a documentary about the events that left more than 40 people dead. He didn’t realize the connection, he says, because Stroble had changed his name to Shango.

But shortly after, when Cooper visited the storefront church of Shango’s mother — the Rev. Mozie Lee Smith — it hit him. Her son, the man at the center of the New York uprising, was the same man who shot his great-uncle, Joseph Cooper (who lived through the shooting but died three years later from health problems not directly related to the shooting).

The new movie and accompanying news stories “brought back memories of tragedies and injustice inflicted on all the participants,” Cooper said, referring to guards who were taken hostage by prisoners, then died in the crossfire when the state retook the prison. “It’s spurred me to realize that there’s still an injustice here, that guards and their families haven’t even been given an apology, compared to what the prisoners got,” Cooper said. “My family was a victim of the actions of one man. But right now, with all that’s going on, that seems kind of irrelevant. Right now, I’m more concerned for (Shango’s) son. I think the best thing about this is where his son is heading, that he’s attending college. I think that’s great.”

And the guards’ families? “The current governor of New York has shown a lot of compassion for victims during the recent events. I’d like to see him, when this crisis moves to the back burner, I’d like to see him do something for the other victims in this other American tragedy, this other New York tragedy.”

Lisa M. Collins contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]