THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES OF INJUSTICE
THIS WEBSITE IS DEDICATED TO EXPOSING THE TRUE INJUSTICE SUFFERED BY LENWOOD "SKIP" HAMILTON
After 31 years, through a chance search of the internet, Lenwood "Skip" Hamilton's name pops up in a story on the North Carolina State sports website. A recent inventory of sports memorabilia stored away in the school's old basketball arena mentions among the unclaimed items are three rings from the N.C. State's 1979 Atlantic Coast Conference championship football season. Hamilton is one of the missing – for he didn't even know the ring existed. Calls are made, emails are exchanged and Hamilton's long lost ACC Championship ring arrives in the mail to his home in Norristown, PA.
To Hamilton, this ring means everything. It gives him a sense of belonging to something and is physical evidence he can show everyone, especially his children, that one time he was a big-time college football player. "This is like a Super Bowl ring," Hamilton beams. "I can't believe I'm wearing it. You don't know how much this means to me!" He's amazed they still remembered him at N.C. State even though he was only there for a little more than two years. These were the best years of his life; his teammates embraced him like the family he never had. Thirty years after the championship season, the team holds a reunion and extends an invitation to Hamilton. Because of financial reasons, he can't make the trip to Raleigh, N.C., but his teammates filled him on the festivities. "He was feared," says Karl Hollingsworth, an all-state linebacker from Fayetteville, N.C. who was Hamilton's teammate for one season. "To me and a lot of others, he's considered a
Hamilton and his older sister, are raised in Chicago by who they believe are their mother and father but are actually a great aunt and uncle (maternal grandmother's brother). Their biological mother moved from Philadelphia to Chicago while she was pregnant with his older sister and left her baby girl behind in Chicago when she returned to Philadelphia. It wasn't proper in the late 1950s for a single woman to be pregnant in what is allegedly a religious household. Lenwood was born in Philadelphia less than two years later, also out of wedlock. At nine months old, Lenwood is sent by his grandparents to live in Chicago with his great aunt and uncle, after they traveled east to visit. After a year in Chicago, the family moves to rural Grand Junction, Michigan, where they build a house on 16 acres. During the week, Hamilton often is free to roam and play as he pleases or help his great aunt pick fruits and vegetables. Often, he just stays outside all day, playing with his dog Cecil, until "Momma" calls him inside for dinner. "I used to love climbing trees," Lenwood says. "Every tree was a challenge to me. I would face them head on, without thinking, climbing higher and higher and higher until I couldn't climb no more. And then ... I had no idea how to get down."
Hamilton's care-free life vanishes by the time he's five years old. His great uncle, or "Daddy," still works all week in the Chicago area – supposedly for International Harvester -- and comes home on Friday nights for the weekend. By Thursday nights, Hamilton is trembling and sick with fear. Daddy, for reasons unknown to the youngster, uses Hamilton as his personal punching bag. Sometimes, the family even goes away and leaves Hamilton at home cooped up in an underground pump house. The room is dark but for a small slit of light that slips its way in between two boards. Cats walk along the top of the walls, looking at Hamilton with a quizzical stare as if to say, "What are you doing in here?" "I'd cry 'let me out of here, let me out of here,'" Hamilton says. His great uncle, Lenwood says, whips him with an extension cord, smacks him with the backside of his hand while they're in the car. Other times, he strips Lenwood bare and ties him to a big tree in the backyard and whacks him. "I remember I couldn't wait for him to leave and go to work on Sunday evening because I knew I wouldn't get hit anymore until Friday evening, when he would return from Chicago," Hamilton recalls. "But I know momma would tell him something that I did and I knew the beatings were coming. I was only 5 years old, and this man was hitting me like a grown man."
In many ways, Hamilton's status becomes lower than the animals who live on the property. Hamilton starts running away – the final time breaking down the door of the pump house with a sledgehammer. He's caught stealing a bike belonging to a white boy in Grand Junction, Mich, by the boy's mother. Hamilton pleads not to be taken back to his house, and the mother instead brings him home to her house, bathes him, feeds him and calls the local juvenile authorities.
Because he is so young and the rural Michigan county in the mid 1960s lacks proper facilities for young runaways and orphans, Hamilton is placed in a some sort of home, which he now believes in retrospect was a mental asylum. He was never properly adopted by his great aunt and uncle, so Hamilton is given the opportunity to return to Philadelphia and be reunited with his real mother (by now he understands his aunt and uncle are not his parents). Hamilton jumps at the opportunity to come home to his grandmother's home in west Philadelphia where his mother, older sister Barbara and a few other relates all live. He initially is showered with attention from his grandmother and aunts – but not his mother, who keeps an emotional distance from her biological son and spends most of her time working. There are just too many people with their own issues to bother with Hamilton, and he's more of a nuisance than a young boy craving love and nurturing. "First my (older) sister Barbara started jumping on me," Hamilton says. "For no reason she would just walk past me and push me into the wall. Then it seemed like my Aunt Charlotte started doing the same thing. I became the joke of everybody's laughter. I first was called 'big eared monkey," then I was told I was starting to look like a gorilla. Now this will really trip you out, they even said my butt was too big. They would have me spin around in the middle of the floor in the living room in front of company, talking about how big my butt was. And they'd put all these clothespins on my ears, which hurt like hell." Again, Hamilton's sometimes stripped of his clothes, this time by an aunt's boyfriend, and locked in the row home's basement. Many nights, Hamilton runs to the end of the street and sleeps between garages in an adjacent alley. Says Vern McKenzie, who grew up on Felton Street with Hamilton, "Skip had family issues that we didn't know about, but I knew he was getting ass kickings. Our family treated him like one of our own and tried to help him." The most stinging comment, which still echoes in Hamilton's head to this day, comes one day when he asks "Are you my mommy?" and the sneering retort from his biological mother is "I ain't your damn mother and don't you call me that!"
Hamilton believes his only recourse is to flee his grandmother's home on Felton Street. "I don't know how old I was but I know I was running away ... sleeping under porches," Hamilton says. "Finally, one time the police found me and I told the cops I was scared. My feet felt like they were frostbitten. They put me in the Youth Studies Center. It was a detention center for bad kids and I really didn't belong there but they didn't know where else to put me."
Hamilton begins a nearly 10-year journey through a litany of detention centers, children's homes and youth centers from center city Philadelphia, to York, Pa., to Mount Holly, N.J., to suburban Philadelphia. Sometimes he is housed with children much older and wiser because he is big for his age. Regardless of where he is placed and no matter how close to his mother's west Philadelphia home he is, Hamilton rarely is visited, even on holidays. "Everyone would get visitors and no one would come to see me," Hamilton says. "The others would get presents and I'd get nothing. I'd just sit in my room and cry."
Along the way, he almost accidently dies when a counselor's gun goes off in a car in which Hamilton and his friend Sam are sitting in. "I was living at Franklin Village (in downtown Philadelphia) then and we were sitting out front in Mr. Theed's car. He'd let us do that. We found a pistol in the glove compartment and Sam started playing with it. I said stop it and pushed it away and it went off, blowing out the windshield. I remember Mr. Theed saying 'You can fix a windshield but you can't fix a life." Hamilton runs the streets of Philadelphia and perfects the art of stealing bicycles and breaking into cars for tools, often to please older boys who lord over him. Hamilton also comes in contact with counselors who try to make a difference in his life and set him on a proper course. He admits their guidance influences him in many ways 40 years later. By the time he becomes a teenager, Hamilton's athletic skills and imposing physique pique the interest of private schools who believe they can tame the wild child and capitalize on his athletic talents. "Stevens and Friends wanted me to play basketball for them but I had to take a test to get in," Hamilton says. "I tried to take the test but I didn't know any of the answers at all and that was the end of that."
In an attempt to get Hamilton out of the city one final time, he is placed at Silver Springs and its on-campus Martin Luther School on a 36-acre farm in the Philadelphia suburb of Plymouth Township. Hamilton begins attending Plymouth Junior High School and everything seems to be falling into place. He establishes himself as a star football and basketball player and is destined to play for Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School, one of the top sport programs in the state. Word is getting out about this incredibly gifted athlete who could be paired with the star of their sister junior high, Marvis Frazier, son of heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier. "Willie was Mug, Larry, my step brother, was Jug, and I was Ugh. We couldn't be stopped and we were all headed to Plymouth-Whitemarsh together. They were predicting state championships when we got there," Hamilton says.