Death and Doubts
It rained all night on May 27. Early the next morning, Henry Drummer and his wife, Bernice, stopped by the house of Bernice's mother, Juanita Lumpkin, in southeast Belle Glade. Juanita had recently suffered a stroke.
After checking on her mom, Bernice left $10 in bus fare so her 32-year-old son, Ray Golden, who was living with Juanita, could go job-hunting. Then she put some meatloaf in the refrigerator for his dinner.
As the couple walked outside, Bernice looked across the broad swath of grass that stretches from the south side of her mother's modest white-shingled home to the corner.
In a schefflera tree 100 yards away, she saw a terrible fruit.
The body of a black man dangled there.
At 6:58 a.m., Henry dialed 911 on his cell phone. "We need the police and the emergency wagon at 659 SE Third Street," he told the dispatcher.
"What's wrong there, sir?" the dispatcher asked.
"Seems like somebody hung himself in a tree," Henry said, his voice quavering.
While Henry Drummer talked to dispatch, Bernice approached the body. The gruesome discovery turned horrific. It was Ray.
The Palm Beach County 911 dispatcher urged Henry to cut him down. After a few seconds of silence, Henry's words landed with a thud. "He's cold, sir," he told the dispatcher.
At 7 a.m., cruisers from the Belle Glade Police Department swarmed into the yard. Neighbors on the quiet road, dotted with small homes and neatly clipped yards, emerged to investigate the commotion. A video camera in Sgt. William O'Connell's police car recorded the scene.
A green sheet taken from his grandmother's house was tied with a slip knot at one end and wrapped around Ray's neck. The rest of the sheet was looped around one of two V-shaped trunks that split the schefflera. He wore blue jeans, a blue- and white-striped long-sleeved shirt, a silver watch, a silver bracelet, and a blue Kangol knit cap. His clothes were wet from the rain, and his arms hung at his sides. Rigor mortis stiffened his body.
Belle Glade police detective Steven Sawyers climbed into the crook of the tree, making several tries before securing his footing. He cut the sheet and freed Ray's body from the tree.
Paramedics tried to revive Ray, but it was merely an exercise. Police covered the five-foot-six 131-pound man with a yellow body blanket. In his pockets, officers retrieved two slips of paper with telephone numbers scribbled on them, a red lighter, a book of matches, and an unused condom.
At 7:39 a.m., Sawyers called Palm Beach County's forensic investigator to say he was investigating an apparent suicide.
Five hours later, pathologist Christopher Wilson performed the autopsy. He found two reddish-brown abrasions on the body -- a rectangular one under his right jawbone and a triangular mark on his neck. He recorded the young man's blood-alcohol level. It was 0.334, four times the legal limit for driving in Florida. Tests also showed cocaine in Ray's system. Wilson noted tattoos on Ray's upper left chest. They read, "Denise, Li' Ray, Ra'Shadd, Ra'yon, and Ray" -- the names of Ray's five children.
The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner ruled the death a suicide by hanging.
In most such tragedies, the medical examiner's report would be the final word. The family would agonize. Friends would be shocked. Both might have a hard time accepting that a person they knew and loved had killed himself.
But Ray was a black man found hanging in a tree.
In the African-American community of this remote town situated among sugar-cane fields, the Everglades, and Lake Okeechobee, people said Ray Golden crossed the color line. He dated a white woman -- the daughter of a Belle Glade police officer. And for that transgression, many people contend, Ray was lynched. Some said the Belle Glade Police Department killed him. But regardless of who did it, most agree, the police so botched the investigation and compromised the crime scene that the truth of Ray's death might never be uncovered.
Members of the mostly white police force maintained that Ray killed himself because he was depressed. Police reported that Ray was an unemployed alcoholic who was behind on his child-support payments. And, the authorities added, he had fought with his family the night before over money. Most whites in Belle Glade accepted the police explanation.
The polarity of opinion might have settled into an O.J.-style standoff -- yet another example of just how intellectually segregated our country remains, another instance of how blacks and whites can look at the same set of information and come to opposite conclusions.
But in Belle Glade, the black community's doubts about the official version of Ray's death didn't just become one more layer of loam in Belle Glade's disturbing racial history. The local chapter of the NAACP demanded a deeper probe. On July 28, Palm Beach County Judge Harold Cohen held the first inquest in the county in 18 years to investigate Ray's death. The New York Times, CNN, ABC, and CBS all covered the story, as did newspapers from as far away as Australia, England, and India. Martin Luther King III, the son of America's greatest nonviolent civil rights fighter, visited the town to study the matter, as did two documentary film crews and several national magazine correspondents.
Although Cohen ruled Ray's death a suicide and state law enforcers probed additional leads with no success, black people continue to believe that Ray was lynched. In an attempt to end the controversy, police even took the unprecedented step of distributing a five-page report describing the findings of state investigators to local businesses.
It didn't work.
Recently, a man about Ray's age standing under a shade tree on SW Sixth Street near where Ray used to hang out retrieved a copy of the report from his pickup truck. "They tryin' to downplay this thing," he said, clutching the report. "There's some fishy shit going on."
Belle Glade is a tiny city of 14,900 people surrounded by thousands of acres of sugar cane. Situated on the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee, it's 44 miles from West Palm Beach and a world from the swanky gated communities, high-toned mansions, and stylish shopping enclaves of urban Palm Beach County. In Belle Glade, even a trip to a mall or a night at the movies requires an expedition east.
People in Belle Glade are proud of two things: the success of the football team and the richness of the soil. They grow athletes, people say, just like they grow sugar cane in the surrounding fields. Glades Central Community High School has won the state football championship five times, most recently in 2000.
Locals call the soil "muck" or "black gold." It's the color of crumbled deep chocolate, the result of centuries of plants rotting on the bottom of the swampy water that sloshed over Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades before the big lake was dammed. At entranceways to Belle Glade, signs boast, "Her Soil Is Her Fortune." If you spit on it, something will grow, people say.
But the town has received more attention for its horrendous work conditions and rampant AIDS infection rate than for the bounty of its soil or its phenomenal athletes. The world discovers Belle Glade, people complain, when something goes wrong. The rest of the time, even Palm Beach County forgets its town is there.
Edward R. Murrow drew a shocking portrait of Belle Glade's African-American farm laborers in the 1960 CBS documentary Harvest of Shame. In the 1980s, Belle Glade again gained national notoriety as the city with the highest AIDS rate in America. Teams refused to play the Glades Central Raiders for fear they'd catch the disease.
Now the death of Feraris Rayshon Golden has again brought national attention to Belle Glade. He has become a symbol of everything wrong with being black in Belle Glade. "Even with the remote possibility that this man's death was a suicide, you have to ask what created the conditions that someone would be so psychologically ill that he would take his own life," Martin Luther King III says.
Just a few blocks west of Main Street, the town's black community is a bleak terrain where row after row of three-story, long, rectangular apartment buildings sit on sandy litter-strewn lots. Some of the buildings look as though desperation has shattered them from the inside out. The glass is broken out of windows, leaving squares of dark emptiness where life should be. Graffiti covers grimy walls.
The occupied buildings don't look much better, but there are signs of life scraping along. Laundry is draped across railings like colorful flags, and doors are flung open to catch the fresh air in apartments with no air conditioning. In many of these places, the bathroom facilities are shared.
The standard of living is deplorable. The average wage among Belle Glades' blacks, who make up more than half the population, is less than $9,000 a year. More than 43 percent live in poverty. Many are employed in agriculture, trying to eke by a year on a season's pay. The average wage for whites, on the other hand, is $21,000.
Signs touting the fecundity of the soil anger Cartheda Mann. Her family settled in Belle Glade in 1929, the year after the city was founded, and opened a black-owned funeral home that is still in business. "It should read, 'Her Soil Is Her Prison,'" says Mann, a retired schoolteacher and secretary of the Glades Area Branch of the NAACP. "If we focus on the soil, we are focusing on great wealth for a small number of people. It enslaves the majority of her people."
A lot of people knew Ray Golden in the area. At the School of Choice in nearby Pahokee, which is designed for students who need academic help, he was known as a class clown. For homecoming one year, he dressed disco-fab -- platform shoes, bell-bottoms, the works. Like many African-Americans in Belle Glade, he never finished the coursework necessary for his diploma, retired School of Choice Principal Antoine Russell says. About one in three people over age 25 in Belle Glade has less than a ninth-grade education.
When he was 18 years old, Ray was sweet on a 14-year-old Pahokee girl, Chanta Smith. Her grandmother, Louizie Smith, wasn't too happy about the romance, especially when Chanta became pregnant at age 16. The couple's first child, Feraris Shuray, was born in December 1991. Ray was a charming funny kid, Louizie says, with a little of the bad boy in him. "He was one of the boys out on the street," Louizie adds. "[Chanta] was attracted to that. Girls are."
When Ray was 22 years old and Chanta was 18, Ray asked Chanta's mother and grandmother for her hand. They wed in February 1993. Louizie says there weren't a lot of options. Chanta was pregnant with the couple's second child, Fercaris Raeshadd, who was born in October 1993.
Even before he married, Ray had run afoul of the law. He had two domestic-disturbance complaints against him, including one involving Chanta. And he already had a drinking problem. Louizie says Ray told her he had started drinking when he was 4 years old.
In March 1993, a month after his marriage, Ray was arrested by the Pahokee Police Department on a felony charge of auto theft. He told Louizie the police made a mistake. He was just sitting in a car he didn't realize was stolen. Then a month before Fercaris was born, Ray was arrested on a felony charge of battery on a pregnant female. Neither the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office nor the clerk of courts can locate a copy of the complaint.
On September 24, 1994, Chanta and Ray spent the evening dancing and drinking at Club Zanzibar on Canal Street in Belle Glade. They were having a good time until around 2 a.m. For no apparent reason, Ray pulled a gun and stuck it in Chanta's face, she told police. He said she didn't love him because she wouldn't dance with him, Chanta explained. Ray made the claim despite the fact that the couple had just left the dance floor. She defused the situation by convincing her husband to leave. But when, as a precaution, she stopped by the Pahokee Police Department to report the incident, Ray jumped into the driver's seat and drove off.
Chanta didn't want to press charges, she told a sheriff's deputy, because the couple was "working their differences out and are trying to become a happily married couple again."
In April 1996, Ray was arrested on a DUI charge in Pahokee. His license was suspended for six months. Over the next several years, he was repeatedly arrested for driving on a suspended or revoked license.
The couple separated in October 1995. On June 9, 1997, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court granted Chanta Golden a divorce.
Though New Times couldn't reach Chanta for comment, her sister, Jamila Smith, told the Palm Beach Post that the couple's marriage fell apart because of Ray's drinking and because he couldn't hold a job. At the time of the split, Ray was earning $1,222 a month as a maintenance man at the Palm Beach County Housing Authority. The court ordered him to pay Chanta $89.68 a week for child support. By June 2002, he owed $27,706. By the time of his death, he owed $50,000.
Louizie Smith says Ray was like a child. He was silly and loved to play. "He was right down there on the floor with the children," she says.
In March 2000, Ray married Donna Willis of West Palm Beach. Attempts to contact Willis were unsuccessful, but police records show that Ray's anger and alcoholism ruined his second marriage as well. On September 29, 2001, Donna told a Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy that she and Ray argued about his drinking. When the debate escalated, Ray picked up a glass table and threw it at his wife. The table shattered, and a shard cut Donna's leg. The couple separated that day, and Donna was granted a divorce on May 16, 2002.
Chanta remained friendly with Ray. They spoke frequently on the telephone. Ray caught rides to Pahokee to visit his kids, often attending his son's track meets and sleeping at Louizie Smith's house. Louizie says Ray looked up to her. He would promise to quit drinking and start attending church. "It wouldn't last," she says. The day Bernice Golden discovered her son's body, Ray was supposed to fix a leaky handle on Smith's bathtub.
In November 2002, Chanta married again, to Francis Wheeler, a white Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy.
According to Ray's friends, he wanted Chanta back, but there wasn't much he could do about it when she married Wheeler. "He knew he couldn't provide for them, so she had to do what she had to do," says one of Ray's friends who asked not to be named.
Hours after police cut Ray's body down from the schefflera tree, word of his death ricocheted through Belle Glade. In a town with no television stations and only a weekly newspaper to relay stories, information is often spread by word of mouth. When the news reached Ray's stomping ground on SW Sixth Street near Bobby's Market, people were stunned. The thought of Ray's body dangling from a tree in his grandmother's yard could be interpreted only one way on these streets.
Ray Golden had been lynched.
On any street corner in Belle Glade today, the depth of knowledge of the case is stupefying. People criticize police for trampling the crime scene when they knew upon arrival that Ray's body was cold. They ask whether DNA testing was done on the sheet or on beer cans strewn in the Lumpkin's backyard. (It wasn't.) They question why nothing was mentioned in the medical examiner or police reports about whether Ray had tree bark on his clothes or hands. They ask how Ray could climb a tree and hang himself while drunk on a rainy night. "Not to make levity of it, but I think people watch entirely too much Law and Order and entirely too much CSI," Belle Glade Police Chief Michael Miller says. "We did a very thorough, very complete investigation handled with standard protocol."
In the underground newspaper da Undergrind, Mucksteppin' to da Light, Jermaine Webb this past June laid out the rumors flying around Belle Glade and put them into print. In a paragraph headlined, "Peculiar Fruit in the 21st Century!" Webb wrote that, "According to information received from his family, [Ray's] hands were tied behind his back, his nose was busted, teeth shattered, and blood was coming out of his eyes... A suicide? I think NOT!"
Webb also repeated the speculation that Ray was murdered for dating a white woman. "With the history of Klan members holding rank within southern police departments, we just may have to solve this horrible crime and bring justice to this Brother's killers ourselves," Webb declared.
When the community's outrage at Ray's death reached the ears of civil rights organizations and the media, the response was prompt. On June 9, Linda Johnson, president of the Glades-area branch of the NAACP, asked for an inquest. During two days of testimony, Belle Glade police detective Sawyers testified that Ray had told his grandmother the night before his death that he was going to kill himself. Sawyers also reported that Ray had been asked to move out of his grandmother's house. Indeed, every time Ray drank, he threatened to kill himself, Sawyers said. After reviewing the investigation and the pathologist's report, a psychologist and a psychiatrist said the handyman was depressed. Ray might have been able to climb to where he hanged himself. Because he drank a lot, he likely had a high tolerance for alcohol, pathologist Christopher Wilson testified.
When the inquest was over, Judge Cohen ruled Ray's death a suicide. "Depression killed Mr. Golden," Cohen wrote. "He did not die because he was black."
No members of Ray's family testified, even though Sawyers had attributed much of what he had learned to Juanita and Shresee Lumpkin, Ray's aunt. The pair now both deny the accuracy of statements the detective credited to them.
Dissatisfied with the inquest's results, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference became involved. On September 14, SCLC President Martin Luther King III met with the Golden family and local African-American leaders. Meanwhile, state Rep. James Harper, D-West Palm Beach, contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). He told investigators the inquest didn't address key information.
FDLE agents, assisted by the FBI, investigated seven leads. They interviewed a woman who had a spiritual vision of two people hanging Ray. They talked to a schizophrenic who overheard a conversation at a convenience store in which three black men claimed they'd murdered Ray because of a drug debt. They also chased down a rumor that there had been two police videotapes at the scene -- one showing Ray's arms dangling and the other with his hands tied behind his back. All were found to be baseless. They even studied a photo that Rep. Harper gave to them that he said showed tire tracks under the schefflera tree. Investigators said it was a patch of dead grass.
The most damning piece of FDLE work, though, was a sworn statement from Ray's cousin Dewayne Rumph. He said that Ray spoke of committing suicide frequently, and that he once said he would hang himself in his grandmother's yard.
On September 17, 2003, the FDLE released a five-page report saying that it "has not uncovered any credible evidence that Feraris Golden did not die by suicide." Hoping to answer questions still circulating about the death, the Belle Glade Police Department distributed nearly 100 copies of the report. "Sometimes you have to do unusual things to deal with unusual situations," Police Chief Miller says. "The report was very, very considerable in pointing out just how without merit [state representative] Harper's and [the NAACP's] Johnson's accusations were. I would characterize them as ridiculous... The report clearly showed that the rumors were completely false, and the community had the right to know."
Dan Paige, an attorney representing the Golden family, doubts that any police investigation will uncover the truth about Ray Golden's death. "[The Belle Glade police investigation] started out with the suggestion of suicide, and it has been a domino effect from there," he says. "No matter who comes in, the investigation continues to be tainted because most of the information they get comes from the City of Belle Glade Police Department."
Most days, all day long, the chairs that line the northern wall of Bobby's Market, 340 SW Sixth St., are filled with people. The talk is easy, the ribbing constant. The center of activity at this spot is a domino table where three men and a woman hover over a chain of ivory chips. The sound of pieces slamming onto a varnished square of plywood set atop a table pedestal provides percussion. The plaintive sound of a rooster's crowing slices the air.
Ray Golden's father, Jackie, sits on the sidelines awaiting his turn at the game. A hulking 53-year-old produce-truck driver, Jackie Golden wears a blue baseball cap turned backward and a creased and faded tag still attached to his sneakers. Golden says he was hauling a load of corn to Georgia the week Ray died, so he doesn't know what kind of spirits his son was in. But whatever Ray might have been going through, Jackie doesn't think he'd kill himself. "Hell no," he says. "He wasn't that crazy."
The idea that his son would commit suicide over money is preposterous to Jackie. "He didn't have an easy life," Ray's father says. "Ain't no easy life around here 'less you rich." That's one of the reasons he thinks his son wouldn't take his life. "If I was going to kill myself over money, I would have done it a long time ago," he says. "That's the difference between us and [white people]. Things don't faze us like they do y'all. We learn to live with it, and we learn to live without it."
Jackie says he would often run into his son at Bobby's Market. If Ray needed money, Jackie would give him some. If Jackie needed money and Ray had it, he would give some to his father, Jackie says.
Ray had told his father he was having conflicts with the sheriff's deputy, Francis Wheeler, who married Chanta. But he said he didn't know whether Francis had threatened Ray. "I'm kind of a violent man," Jackie says, "so he wouldn't say nothing to me anyway. I'd go and find out why."
A June 3 statement that Francis gave to Detective Sawyers shows that Francis has a temper too. In a rambling, expletive-filled monologue related to the rumors circulating about Ray Golden's death, the deputy asserts Ray was an alcoholic. And he says he became really angry at Chanta when he overheard someone saying Ray had been murdered. "It's a bunch of bullshit, and I told her, I said, 'Cut the bullshit. This is a circus atmosphere, and it's bullshit. Point blank, the bitch killed himself.'" He then says he can't understand why Chanta would care if Ray were dead. "I don't know why you're shitting a goddamned care," Francis told his wife. "He used to beat the fuck out of you, never paid a lick of child support, I'm raising those fucking kids, so what's the big deal?"
Chanta and Francis Wheeler recently separated, Louizie Smith says. Francis didn't kill Ray, she adds. He was at her house in Pahokee the night of the hanging. "He didn't have anything to do with it," she comments.
On SW Sixth Street at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard, another game of dominoes is being played on a lot partially shaded by two trees. A group of elderly men, one in a wheelchair, lines a back wall like sentries. Underneath the shade trees is clustered a group of younger men who say they all knew Ray Golden from high school. A massive pile of plastic soda bottles and other debris has accumulated near where the men stand. One of them, who has a mouth full of gold teeth, pulls a wad of bills from his pocket and counts off the cash. The sweet pungent smell of marijuana tinges the air.
A hefty man nicknamed "D" sprawls over a beige car seat set up on the ground next to a broken plastic lawn chair, a crushed shopping cart, and the remains of a second car seat. He doesn't want to give his name because he says he fears speaking out would mean a visit from the police.
The men describe Ray as someone always ready with a joke. In a world where people pass the day talking, a sense of humor is gold. It brings a welcome touch of the unexpected. Ray always had a Natural Lite in his hand, a Black & Mild cigar between his lips, and something crazy coming out of his mouth.
Like Jackie Golden, the four men don't buy the explanation that Ray would kill himself over money. "Couldn't have been no financial problems. He got a family. He got lots of friends," D says. "All of us 'round here have rough times. Good times. Bad times. We don't kill ourselves."
Solomon Gooden, a tall bleary-eyed man holding a Natural Lite outside Bobby's Market, says he knew Ray like a brother. He saw him every day in front of Bobby's. Ray was always bragging about his kids, and he was always trying to find work. To Gooden, Ray had too much to live for to take his life. And Gooden doesn't believe that any black man would take his life the way authorities claim Ray did. At the inquest, a psychologist explained that suicide is comparatively rare among African-American men. Between 2000 and 2002, 47 whites and three African-American men committed suicide by hanging in Palm Beach County, he said.
While some of Ray's friends understand that a guy might hang himself in jail, they'll never accept the idea that a black man would hang himself from the limb of a tree. "What African-American is going to take his life in the [manner] of a lynching?" Solomon asks. "You find them shot, maybe stabbed, but you are not going to find them hanging from a blang tree. You ain't never heard of nary a person kill themselves in the ideological way of a lynching. Regardless of what oppression you been under."
Then Solomon predicts that Belle Glade is too small a town for the truth about Ray's death to remain hidden. "Everything in the dark shall come to light," he predicts. "The Lord knows all."
D and his friends think Ray was murdered because he was screwing "Becky," the infamous daughter of a white police officer. They say the young woman frequently hung out in the black community. "We the people she chose to hang around with," says a guy with smoky black skin and dreadlocks to his chin who gave his name as John. He claims the police stopped Becky one night when she was in the area. "The police tried to make her leave, told her to hang around with your own kind," he says.
Becky and Ray hooked up, the four friends agree. "Everybody knew about it," D says. The friends say the couple was together the night Ray died. "He walked her home," one of the friends says. "That night!"
On SE Third Street, just down the street from the Golden home, "Becky" is just dragging herself out of bed at 2 p.m. one Sunday. Her name is actually Judi Stambaugh, though her nickname since high school has been Becky. She is the daughter of Belle Glade Police Lt. Curtis Stambaugh.
She nestles into a recliner in her parents' incredibly cluttered living room, dressed in a white T-shirt and blue jeans. Though she is 22 years old, her blond hair is pulled back into a girlish ponytail. She has fuzzy pink bedroom slippers on her bare feet. She places her cell phone nearby so she can monitor calls from friends.
When Stambaugh graduated from Glades Central Community High School, in 1998, there were only about ten white students enrolled, she says. Because of that, she has many black friends. Since Palm Beach County schools were integrated, most white families in Belle Glade send their children to the private high school, Glades Day School.
Judi says, yes, she hangs out on the same street corners that Ray did. When she started to date about four years ago, Judi says, she went with black men. But she asserts she was never involved with Ray Golden. "We were neighbors. We'd say hello. As far as dating? There was nothing like that," she says. And when Ray died, she says, she was seeing someone else. "My boyfriend walked me home that night," she says. As for her father Curtis, Judi dismisses the idea he would be involved in the murder of Ray Golden. "My dad would never do anything like that," she comments. "If he was going to do some violence because I dated black men," Judi says, "it would have happened years ago."
But she does think Ray was murdered, and she doesn't rule out members of the Belle Glade Police Department or the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office as suspects. "There are just too many unanswered questions," she says.
Like Judi, Belle Glade Police Chief Miller dismisses the notion that Lt. Stambaugh had anything to do with Ray's death. Stambaugh has worked for the Belle Glade Police Department for 30 years, he explains. He has done volunteer work, served on boards of several local nonprofits, and worked with the Glades Central football team. Did Stambaugh lynch Ray Golden? he is asked. "No, no, no," he responds.
A large crowd fills the chairs waiting for haircuts at the Black Gold City Salon, 401 W. Avenue A. Gospel music blares from a stereo. A barber, who identifies himself only as "JAP," an abbreviation for "just a person," clips the hair of one client after another in a style he describes as "Black Gold." JAP explains that the problem in Belle Glade is that those in power act to keep their power. "I call them overseers," he says of the police. Since Ray's death, the cops have been strictly enforcing rules, JAP says. He thinks they will keep pressure on the community until people stop complaining about Ray. "People will say, 'It's bad about Ray, but I want my privileges back,'" he predicts.
In Belle Glade, JAP says, the black community has been conditioned into silence and compliance. "The fear travels deep in their veins."
People don't complain, he says, because they fear losing their jobs. "They control you by jobs. You don't go complain because you might lose your job the next day. They got children to feed."
He says police enter the black community prepared to do damage rather than enforce the law. "They come in with a purpose -- seek and destroy."
Martin Luther King III says he wants to reopen Ray's case. At the behest of the SCLC, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission requested a Justice Department probe. As of October 6, there was no response. King says he will return to Belle Glade for a march with the NAACP on November 14 or 15. King hopes Ray's death will serve as a rallying point for change.
"Every now and then, a community will rise up," he says. "And in this context, the Golden hanging is just a catalyst. Whether or not it can be sustained and create change, I don't think we can say at this point. But those of us who care have to continue to raise this issue and other issues around economic justice. We have Belle Glades, pockets of them, all over this country."
A fading yellow ribbon with the word Ray spelled out in silver glitter marks the schefflera tree where Ray Golden died.
His body is buried several miles away at Foreverglades Cemetery on Airport Road in Belle Glade. The grave sits atop a little hill at the cemetery. A field of sugar cane sprouts outside a fence. A flat bronze gravestone with a pink granite base marks the spot. A vase attached to the gravestone holds two soft-blue cloth roses. The inscription reads, "Forever in Our Hearts."
On the streets of Belle Glade, the community still waits. A.B. Burch, a 59-year-old domino pal of Ray's, says a complete investigation is warranted. He adds: "I think everybody should have some justice."
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