This is the story of that jacket and how it ended up on the shoulders of Henderson’s sister, Robbie McCauley
, a performer, playwright and retired Emerson College professor who lives in Boston. In 2009, McCauley was in Washington to direct “Anne and Emmett,” a play written by Janet Langhart Cohen
, who is married to William Cohen, the former U.S. senator and secretary of defense.
“Anne and Emmett” is about an imagined meeting between Anne Frank and Emmett Till. It was to have its premiere at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on June 10, 2009. That afternoon, as Langhart Cohen was being driven to the museum, a gunman burst in, killing security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns.
William Cohen: “Five or six shots were fired right away. . . . [Afterward], everybody had been evacuated from the building except me and the actors and Robbie. None of us could leave. I had to give a statement to what I had seen.”
Cohen, McCauley and others were ushered by security personnel to the back of the museum.
Robbie McCauley: “In fact, it was Senator Cohen who said, ‘Go that way.’ And he very quickly explained to me what had happened. He himself had been coming down the [entrance] steps while the shooting was happening.
“I remember being really panicked and breathing hard. . . . I remember Senator Cohen saying to me, ‘Just calm down.’ I was shaking. I think it was air-conditioned, and I was shaking. And he gave me his jacket.”
The black jacket was a men’s XL. Embroidered on the front were the words “Head. Intelligence.”
Cohen: “For a number of years I served on the board of Head Sports. One of their [tennis] rackets was called the Intelligence. . . . I had forgotten all about that.”
Anita Henderson: “When she came home after the incident, apparently she just put the jacket down. Then it got in my basement closet.”
McCauley: “I didn’t find out until later who the guard who was shot was. And I remembered him, because he was such a nice man.”
Janet Langhart Cohen: “How ironic, how sad, that here we are in the 21st century, thinking that all of that hatred, racism and anti-Semitism are behind us, or at least underground, but here a neo-Nazi gets out of his car at a Jewish shrine, and he kills a black man.”
McCauley: “Right now things are just shockingly surprising in terms of the public discourse and public events around these issues. I’m hoping that this is just revealing something that has always been there and that, now it’s more public, we can begin to change for the better.”
Langhart Cohen: “You think that these racist and anti-Semitic notions will die out. We look to the young and think, ‘Well, the old ones will die, and new ones will come.’ Then you remember Dylann Roof and what happened at the border in El Paso recently. Young people have had this hate passed on to them.”
Cohen: “Just a few months ago, we were going to Baltimore to see a new production at Morgan State University and a pop-up came up on our phones saying there had been another [synagogue] shooting. It was actually six months to the day that a shooting had taken place [at a synagogue] in Pennsylvania. This one was out in California.”
Langhart Cohen: “Sadly, that day, it’s timeless in a way. Racism and anti-Semitism are the gifts that keep on giving. You talk about that happening then, compared to where we are now, and it seems like the now and then have always been. And that’s one of the reasons I wrote the play ‘Anne and Emmett.’ ”
Henderson: “There was a lot of news around the [Holocaust Museum] incident. Some of it is beginning to fade with time. . . . I think that’s what made me think about how things have not really changed a lot.”
McCauley: “[My sister] is one of those people who wants everything in its place. She’s a cleaner-upper in a way I wish I were. So she’s been talking for years about: ‘Well, we have this jacket. Why don’t we try to get it back to him?’ ”
For 10 years, the jacket was hanging in Henderson’s basement, protected by a plastic bag. Clipped to it was an envelope with news clippings about the shooting. Together, they represented a reminder of that awful day.
In August, Henderson asked if I might help reunite the jacket with its owner. Last month, I picked it up at her home. This week, I dropped it off at Cohen’s office.
Bye for now
I’m taking a little break. I should be back in this space on Oct. 14. Be well.