The night after the 1939 premiere of Gone with the Wind, seven-year-old Billy and his boyhood friend Martin, under the direction of Martin's father, Dr. King, sang out as pickaninnies to entertain Atlanta's lily-white Junior League Ball. The night after that, Billy's parents were lynched. Almost 30 years later, Billy, now a Memphis private eye renamed Smokey Dalton, is asked to provide protection for his old friend Martin, who’s coming to town to lead a peace march. Rumors put the Black Panthers in town; riots are possible. Then into Smokey's office strides Chicagoan Laura Hathaway, beautiful, white, and patronizing, demanding to know why her mother has left Smokey $10,000 in her will. This is the second time someone has donated $10,000 to Smokey, and the prior gift also goes back to the Hathaways and 1939 Atlanta. Meanwhile, Memphis reeks from a continuing garbage strike, Smokey spots an FBI agitator, and young Jimmy, a needy kid befriended by Smokey, sees more than the cops will admit to when King is assassinated. Piling Jimmy into his car, Smokey flees Memphis, leaving behind a city of looters and armed conspirators, and the memory of his doomed romance with Laura.
Powerful stuff, with a role for every major black actor in Hollywood. Despite an opening two pages that should have been cut, deceptively quiet first-timer Nelscott is a first-rate storyteller.