February 7, 2003
Popular lore continues to grow concerning the barbecue king, Homer Thompson, and his tragic death on Christmas Eve in 1961. Some of his former friends and associates still contemplate that chilly December night and wonder "Why?" Homer died from a single pistol shot fired at point blank range in the doorway of his restaurant on the south edge of Perry. Mr. Thompson was a well regarded businessman and a leader among the black population of this little city. His death was a shock to the entire community.
Johnny Skinner was a young polio victim in the era when Mr. Thompson was slain. Johnny was determined then, as now, to make his own way. He took jobs suited to his halting walk, and a few months before the shooting he was hired by the barbecue chef to seat diners and wait tables at Thompson's Golden Barbecue. Today John's health is not what he'd like it to be but he recalls that time with a great deal of pride.
He remembers that some Perry citizens were still learning to deal with civil rights and integration. "One fellow told me in confidence that white folks were not supposed to work for Negroes," Johnny recalls. "He said it was supposed to be the other way around." Despite that word of warning, Johnny got along with Mr. Thompson very well and he enjoyed his employment at the barbecue house. Later, John was hired by Beverly Garland, the late Oklahoma City restaurateur who introduced Oklahomans to the joys of finger-lickin' fried chicken dinners. Beverly's principal restaurant in Oklahoma City was on Lincoln Avenue, just north of the state capitol, and Johnny was in charge of one of the dining rooms there. Beverly had curb service for those who chose to eat in their car. Johnny also spent some time as an employee of Jack Sussy at the latter's popular Italian cuisine restaurant.
Robert Jarrett, known to most everyone as "Stork," has his own recollection of Thompson's Golden Barbecue. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a mechanic at the Chrysler-Plymouth auto dealership on Seventh street, where the Dollar General Store is now located. The building originally was built for the Perry Safeway Grocery Store. "Otis Stickney and I were in the service department," Stork says. "Dan Brengle owned the business. He had the dealership for a while, but later it was operated by Lloyd Smith. Tommy Carpenter was a salesman there. When noontime came around, we would all head out for lunch at Homer Thompson's place. It was always a good place to eat." Stork also says that the photo of the Thompson restaurant recently seen as part of this column was made later than the caption indicated, judging from the vintage of that pickup in the foreground. He also remembers the GoKart racers operated by Mr. Thompson and his son, Donald, in the 1950s and 1960s.
Several others have shared their own personal memories of the Thompson barbecue house and its owner. Mr. Thompson was a true gentleman and a contributor to the civility of the Perry area, despite the tragic circumstances surrounding his death in 1961. I appreciate the help provided by so many readers in compiling information for this collection of stories.