Edward David White, 18, was walking back to the home where he lived with his family in the West Philadelphia neighborhood late in the evening on September 30, 1965, after finishing his shift at a restaurant. Known to family and friends as David, he had an eight-month-old son, and his girlfriend was pregnant. They intended to get married in the spring.
White didn’t make it home. A 16-year-old gang member, drunk on cheap wine and seeking revenge for the death of a member of his gang, stabbed to death, shot him with a .38-caliber gun, puncturing his heart and right lung. White was unarmed and had no police record. He was left to die in the street.
His killer would end up having a prosperous life as a sports and marketing executive. He is Larry Miller, now 72, former president of the Portland Trail Blazers professional basketball team, and director of Nike’s Michael Jordan brand. Miller has kept his murderous past a secret for more than half a century, opening up on the subject in a recent interview in Sports Illustrated magazine and in a forthcoming book.
In the book, Miller marvels at having been lucky enough to leave his old neighborhood. But, in an as-yet-unpublished copy of the book to which the New York Times had access, he never mentions the name of his victim and says little about the devastating implications for White, who never had the opportunity to hold his daughter in his arms, he couldn’t see his son become a basketball star in high school, nor did he get a chance to pamper his grandchildren.
Fifty-six years after White’s death, his family said they had had their lives turned upside down by Miller once more and had returned to mourn White’s death. They were taken by surprise, unaware of the article in the magazine or knowing that the book would be published.
A relative came across the Sports Illustrated article online by chance. White’s name was mentioned in the article, and Miller said he intended to contact the family. But White’s relatives say they have not yet been contacted by Miller. They are appalled that he did not mention White’s name in the book or any details about his life. White is only superficially portrayed as an anonymous victim, a stranger, “another black boy”.
Edward White was a wolf scout as a child; as a boy, he earned money by helping people carry their groceries home from the supermarket. He also did occasional mischief. Occasionally he drove his sister’s 1960 Chevy, even though he still didn’t have a driver’s license. Once, after leaving the car and only returning the next day, he had to explain to his parents how he had returned with a basket of lunch from his grandmother’s house in Maryland. White got his job at a restaurant through the Philadelphia Youth Corps program six months before he was killed, his parents said at the time, and he dreamed of becoming a chef.
At the very least, the family would like White’s name and story to be inserted into Miller’s book before it is published. Written by Miller with his eldest daughter, Laila Lacy, “Jump: My Secret Journey From the Streets to the Boardroom” is set to come out in January on William Morrow, a HarperCollins label.
“You know his name. Give him that respect at least, especially since you took his life,” urged Mariah Green, elementary school teacher in Philadelphia and grandniece of Edward White.
Miller did not respond to messages sent on Thursday (11) asking for statements. Contacted by telephone, her assistant asked a reporter to send her an email, which neither she nor Miller responded to. A William Morrow representative also did not respond to emails asking for statements.
Miller was arrested the night of the crime. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, was placed in a juvenile offender prison, and was released after four and a half years. He served another five years in prison for a series of armed robberies. But in his early 30s, he stabilized his life, earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in business administration and began to climb the ladders in the corporate environment, socializing with famous athletes like Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter and producing shows for the fashion label Jantzen beach with models like Miss Universe and Tyra Banks.
Miller sees himself as the beneficiary of a redemption that is possible when prison authorities offer education, rehabilitation and hope to inmates rather than just keeping them incarcerated.
In the book, he expresses remorse. He acknowledges that the murder he committed was unprovoked and meaningless, that he didn’t know the victim and didn’t know if she was part of a rival gang. He says his regret for the murder “will never diminish, nor should it,” adding, “I will mourn his death forevermore.”
Miller says he began to break free from nightmares and migraines when he wrote the book. He hopes the book will help young people understand that a turbulent crossroads in life doesn’t necessarily have to mean a dead end. But family members of Edward White say that while Miller was able to move forward in life, they themselves found themselves handcuffed to the past.
Josaphine Hobbs, 75, the mother of White’s children, said she was so stunned and desperate when White died that she tried to throw herself into his grave at the funeral. She dropped out of nursing school to raise her young children as a single mother and was unable to receive welfare assistance for her children. And because he didn’t finish high school, he lost his office job at an insurance company.
She has repressed so many memories of the murder that she doesn’t remember anything about the man who was accused and sentenced. “I don’t think my mom got over that trauma,” said Aziah Arline, 55, the daughter of Hobbs and White, who owns a day care center and lives in Pennsauken, New Jersey. “What happened changed the whole course of her life.”
White’s older sister is Barbara Mack, who is now 84 years old. Echoing other family members, he comments that he doesn’t understand how Miller could be released after serving only four and a half years in prison, despite being a minor when he committed the crime. “This shows that no one gave much importance to black against black crimes.”
Mack said he avoided crossing the intersection of 53rd and Locust Streets in West Philadelphia for years, where his brother was killed. The subject was so painful that the family didn’t even talk about it.
Hasan Adams, 56, the son of White, honored his father by giving his own eldest son the name Hasan David. Until I read the article in Sports Illustrated last week, I only knew that his father had been shot on his way home from work.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Adams, a Philadelphia postal worker. “The last thing I could imagine was that my father’s killer was a wealthy, successful businessman who is writing a book.” When he tried to tell his wife, Adams got choked up and couldn’t speak. “I left my wife scared,” he commented.
Barbara Mack, White’s sister, wrote to William Morrow that the fact that a cruel act was brought up again “has reopened the wound, the suffering, the tears” of what happened decades ago. She wants the editor and Larry Miller to know that her brother was not just a stranger shot for no reason, but a young man loved by his parents and four siblings.
White’s family says they want more than Miller’s remorse. Want some kind of atonement. A formal apology. A letter. A meeting with the family. A scholarship in White’s name. Perhaps some financial reparation for White’s children from book proceeds.
Miller deserves praise for rebuilding his life, said William Gray, 79, a longtime friend of the White family and a former jailer at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia. But for him, “if he really wanted to redeem himself, before writing he would have sought to contact the remaining members of the family, conveyed to them how sorry he had been, and asked, ‘Would you be able to forgive me?'”.
Miller and White lived eight blocks away from each other. Both were from large, middle-class families. Miller’s father worked in a laminated plaster factory; his mother was a housewife. White’s father was a house painter, his mother a nurse. Neither of the two boys liked school.
Miller describes himself as a student who only got high grades but who felt more part of a group in the gang than in the classroom. Two years after the crime, he was chosen to be the speaker for the class of 157 teenage inmates who received their high school diplomas at the correctional facility.
White never graduated from high school, choosing instead to work. He was known for his elegance: a felt hat worn at an irreverent angle, sunglasses, trousers with a well pressed crease, dress shoes of a type known locally as “old man comforts”. Adams keeps a photo of his dad in his cell phone.
Before leaving for work on September 30, 1965, White stopped by a store and bought two sweaters. On his way home that night, he ran into Miller and several other allies of the Cedar Avenue gang. Earlier that month, a member of that gang had been stabbed to death by a rival gang member from 53rd and Pine Streets. Miller was seeking revenge.
Miller writes in the book that he carried a .38-caliber gun that his girlfriend had given him. He and three companions surrounded White at the corner of 53rd and Locust streets.
White said he wasn’t part of a gang and held up his hands. Miller shot him in the chest and continued walking, thinking “that’s one less” and that he was on the hunt for another rival gang member. Only decades later did he recognize that he had killed “a boy who was just like me.”
White was pronounced dead in a hospital that could be seen from his parents’ home. He was buried in Rolling Green Memorial Park, 12 km away, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, close to his parents, George and Pearl White, and his older brother, George Jr.
Died before all of them. I would be 75 years old on the 21st of November. “I never got to know him,” said his daughter, Arlene. “Is not fair.”