The Grapes of Wrath

By Bill Clutter

An excerpt of COAL TAR: How Corrupt Politics and Corporate Greed Are Killing America's Children.

“This is a classic story with very good good-guys and very bad bad-guys, a tale of corporate greed, lethal pollution and sick children and the heroic people who fought to make things right.

A wonderful read” --Scott Turow.

Prologue Part 4

      In Roseburg, Oregon, RFK delivered a speech advocating for stricter gun control laws. “With all the violence and murder and killings we’ve had in the United States, I think you will agree that we must keep firearms from people who have no business with guns or rifles,” he told the mob.

      Members of National Rifle Association (NRA) showed up to protest, heckling Kennedy as he spoke. They showed up in droves to vote. On May 28th, Eugene McCarthy defeated Kennedy in the Oregon primary.

      Kennedy’s speech still haunts the town of Roseburg. On October 1, 2015, a 26-year-old gunman killed eight students and an assistant principal at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg. The following year, a 15-year-old gunman entered Roseburg High School and shot a fellow student four times, but the victim survived, forever scarred by the trauma of the bullets that pierced his body.

      It seemed as if the issue of gun violence had been addressed when Congress finally took action to ban assault rifles. In 1989, after a gunman entered a school in Stockton, California with a Russian made Kalashnikov rifle and shot 34 students and a teacher, killing 5, President George H.W. Bush responded by banning the importation of assault rifles. But domestic manufactures were still able to sell assault rifles in the U.S. Another massacre occurred in 1991, at a café in Killeen, Texas that killed 23 and wounded another 27 people. In 1994, Congress finally introduced legislation for a complete ban on the sale of assault rifles. Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush all sent letters of support of a ban. The NRA had the votes to force an amendment that watered it down, setting a 10-year sunset provision. That bill was adopted by Congress, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law.

     In the mid-term elections, President Clinton’s Party suffered a crushing defeat. Propelled by a high turn-out of NRA members, Democrats lost their House majority and Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House. Republicans captured 54 seats in the House and 8 seats in the Senate. Although polls showed an overwhelming majority of voters supported the ban by 77%, voter apathy and a low turnout carried the day for the NRA.

    When the sun set, casting a long shadow on the graves of those victims, the ban on assault rifles died in 1994. Right-wing militias were free to purchase the means of mass murder, again. America is still plagued with gun violence today, as politicians influenced by campaign contributions from the gun lobby continue to thwart legislation aimed at addressing this problem.

    What few realize is that the 2nd Amendment was added to the Bill of Rights at the insistence of Southern states to prevent the federal government from stripping state militias from their power to preserve the institution of slavery at gunpoint.

    With a high turnout of Mexican-American voters, Kennedy made a comeback in California. He won the primary with the help of civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 that later became the United Farm Workers. The entire agricultural economy of California depended on migrant labor. In the vineyards that were the setting for John Steinbeck’s book, The Grapes of Wrath, migrant workers were earning starvation wages and being exposed to toxic pesticides. Chavez motivated his members with the slogan “Si, se puede” which translates to “Yes, it can be done!”

    I woke up early on the morning of June 5, 1968 to attend Vacation Bible School, where I heard the news. We didn’t normally go to church, but a friend invited me and my younger brother, Steve, to come along. The pastor approached the pulpit with sadness and asked us to pray for Bobby Kennedy’s widow and children.

    Sadly, after Kennedy delivered his victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, his embrace of peace, and for less violence in America, was a dream shattered by a bullet that ended his life.

    I hurried into our house after church. I found it in Dad’s den, the bullhorn RKF used aboard the Wabash Cannonball. Like the town crier, I ran out into the front yard and flipped the toggle switch. Birds perched above me fluttered, startled by the loud squawk of amplified sound gone mad, like the distorted cords of Jimi Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner. With tears streaming down my face, I announced to the neighborhood, “Bobby Kennedy is dead! He was killed today!”

    Two days later, on June 7, 1968, the Decatur Review ran a front-page story about a grieving Ethel Kennedy next to an article with a picture of my Dad, Jim Clutter. He told the reporter how Kennedy offered to help him. The headline read “No Funds.” “Although James D. Clutter had been working without success for three years to gain acceptance of a device to warn vehicles of approaching trains at crossings, he still has not given up.”

    Now that Kennedy was dead, Dad was back to where he started. An electrical genius, he was without the means or money to pursue his dream.

To pre-order copies of the book go to: Release date scheduled for September 2020. Copyright © 2020 by Bill Clutter Published by Investigating Innocence Media | Springfield, Illinois. Cover and book design by Polly Danforth | Morning Star Design

The author will provide a free paperback copy of Coal Tar to individuals who donate $20 or more to a not-for-profit organization of private investigators that he started at

About The Author

Bill Clutter is a private investigator who started his career in Springfield, Illinois. Clutter got his start as a private investigator by serving the complaint filed by Africans-Americans who alleged that the old commission form of city government elected city-wide, violated the Voting Rights Act in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln. Clutter was elected in 1987 as the first Ward One Alderman in the City of Springfield. Also elected that year to the new aldermanic government were two African-Americans. The attorney who filed that lawsuit also initiated the lawsuit against CIPS.

In 2001, Clutter started the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield. His investigation on two death penalty cases contributed to the exoneration of three innocent men who were among the 20 innocent men who were freed from death row in Illinois. The Chicago Tribune credited Clutter, among others, for the abolition of the death penalty in 2011.