Fuhrman storm sweeps over his town

September 13, 1995|By Kim Murphy and Doug Conner | Kim Murphy and Doug Conner,Los Angeles Times

A truck full of noisy kids went barreling through town recently, the kind of boisterous display that might be expected before a big game at Eatonville High School. This time, though, the banner on the truck said "Fuhrman for Mayor."

On the other side of town, newspaper columnist Dixie Walter, who has carried a "Justice for Detective Fuhrman" button for months, got an anonymous phone call when she wrote a column about racism and the former L.A. Police detective.

"It was somebody who didn't like the fact that I was sticking up for Mark Fuhrman," she recalled. "And he in no uncertain terms told me not to ever write about Mark Fuhrman again. Or I was going to get it."

As Mr. Fuhrman sat in the center of a storm over racism and justice in a Los Angeles courtroom, the small timber town where he grew up has been forced into its own crisis of identity and history. Fuhrman's pronouncement that "we have no n where I grew up" has unearthed years of painful memories and left Eatonville civic leaders determined to disavow any connection with a son who is alternately seen as hero and villain.

Mr. Fuhrman's Eatonville, a community of 1,650 nestled on the forested hills below Mount Rainier, isn't unlike dozens of other small timber towns in the Pacific Northwest where the counter at the local cafe is the main exchange point for information, almost everyone is white and the police department spends most of its time chasing Saturday night domestic brawls and shoplifting at the five-and-dime.

"I always thought of Eatonville when I taught Thornton Wilder's 'Our Town,' " said Margrit Thorvaldson, a retired English teacher who remembers the Fuhrman family.

Eatonville, like most towns, resists having its character pinned down in a fleeting anecdote.

On the one hand, Eatonville is a place that elected a young black student as its Homecoming king in 1991, named three black teen-agers as cheerleaders and recently opened its arms to young Hector Andrade and his wife from Guadalajara as the owners of the Puerto Vallarta Mexican restaurant.

On the other hand, the same town has left Rose Lucas a virtual outcast, and she believes it's because she married a black man and bore three sons to another black. "It's definitely a friendly town as long as you're white and don't have mixed kids," she said. "They say this isn't a racist town? I know it. I've lived it."

Now, Mr. Fuhrman's tape-recorded assertions have prompted Eatonville, unlike the other towns that sprang up in these fertile forests, to ask questions about why it grew up the way it did, who was welcome here, who prospered, and who didn't.

People have stirred up memories of the Fuhrman brothers, stories of Mark and Scott striding through town and getting into confrontations with Daryl and Daniel Blue, from one of the town's only black families, and they've started asking themselves if Eatonville did right by the Blues.

"The familiar name for all of us was 'the n---,' " Daniel Blue recalled in a recent interview. " 'Them n--- live out there.' Oh, big time! I mean, even to the day my last sister graduated, I think in '86, they were still calling her names."

Mr. Blue remembers frequent run-ins with Mr. Fuhrman and his brother, Scott, who he said got into fistfights with his own brother, Daryl. "They'd see you coming down the street, and they'd say, 'Here come them n---, the n--- are in town.' "

Mr. Blue, 41, a truck driver who left town when he grew up and moved closer to Tacoma, Wash., is philosophical now. "We were the first ones, and the only ones," he said. "We were history makers."

But newspaper columnist Walter said that for every bad story, she has heard two from Mr. Fuhrman's admirers. "So many people have talked to me, people that I know and trust, telling me he was such a neat guy."

Police Chief Rick Armstrong said the entire town has had to live down a reputation for racism that it never deserved. "Maybe when Mark was here 25 years ago the town was like that. But I have been here 25 years and . . . trust me, the majority of people do not feel that way."

The Fuhrman family is still popular in Eatonville. The Blues are long gone. Lucas' sons have mostly left school and moved away, but two other black families are living on the hill on the north edge of town. Mostly they keep to themselves, townspeople say, though one of their members, Russell Harris, a popular football player, was named homecoming king in 1991.

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