Donald W. Tucker’s book The Two-Edged Sword is a story of one man’s journey from the Southside of Chicago to U.S. Marshall for the District of Arizona. His personal tale is exemplified by this early passage in which he visits a school in Phoenix where he is to “light a fire under inner city kids and let them know the best way to get on their feet is to get off their asses.”
In his book Tucker expertly “tells it like is” as he takes the reader on a trip through what becomes an illustrious career in federal law enforcement.
“Writing the autobiography reminded me of things I had done 40 or 50 years and exactly how tough things were,” Tucker said during a telephone interview from a New York City hotel. “Writing the book was therapeutic.”
His book has been referred to as “grim,” however that description totally misses the point. Tucker’s story is triumphant. It speaks to the courage and determination of an individual who, despite incredible odds, made it in an America where poverty, Jim Crow plus covert and overt racism conspired against African Americans. These diseases of our society broke him down on several occasions but his is a well-written story of perseverance.
Tucker should be celebrated for his honesty. His career seemed unblemished. He achieved heights that were almost unimaginable to a child reared in the Chicago ghetto. Rather than boast about a life well-lived Tucker takes us on a rollercoaster ride where we feel his angst as he encounters numerous obstacles as he slowly rises through the ranks of one of this nation’s most prestigious law enforcement agencies the United States Secret Service.
His life story begins on Chicago’s Southside Ghetto where he and five brothers shared a one bedroom apartment.
“My mom and dad were people of strong moral fiber,” Tucker explained.
Although he was from an extremely modest beginning, young Donald Tucker parlayed his outstanding athletic ability into a football scholarship to the University of Iowa where he was a star player. Injuries finally put an end to his dreams of becoming a professional athlete and the newly minted graduate returned to his home town where he began a career in law enforcement as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) the forebear of today’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The double standard in U.S. government law enforcement was evident from the beginning, Tucker recalls in the book. Untrained and totally naïve, the rookie was sent into what can only be called dangerous and life-threatening situations throughout the seedy underbelly of the city of his birth. As he and the few other African Americans were hired as what amounted to be temporary “show us what you’ve got” positions, far less qualified whites were given permanent positions. Whites were given assignments that were far more glamorous and less dangerous that the black agents also. Tucker found himself on the streets posing as a hustler sitting in undesirable dumps attempting to score drugs while his white colleagues wore suits and ties sat in offices and “handled’ informants.
Tucker says he hopes that although his story is that of a grandfather figure for today’s youth they will get some inspiration and hope from the book.
“I think the book can be an instrument for young minorities,” Tucker explained. “Although my career was successful there were some cobblestones in the road. It should be apparent to our children that no matter what position you obtain in this country you are still going to be considered a “nigger” in the eyes of some people. People will always look at you differently. If young people read the book they should know that life and the pursuit of a career, even a successful career, is not going to be all peaches and cream.”
Tucker says he does not want to discourage young people but his goal is to arm them with the truth and brace them for the realities of our society. He says the racism he experienced in the 1960s through the 1990s was overt and in his face. Not only as a federal officer but as an Army MP stationed at Ft. Hood near Killen, Texas where black soldiers had to “know their place.”
One especially poignant entry in the book is when Tucker describes his time in the Army when his unit was dispatched to the University of Mississippi during the riots that broke out when James Meredith was accepted as the school’s first African American student in 1962. As his unit was readying itself to deploy to Oxford, Mississippi — the location of the school — Tucker was ordered to “fall out.”
The pain of that order is apparent in his voice to this day since the and other black soldiers were not allowed to play an active role in assuring the young black student’s right to attend a public university. The two-edged sword was all too evident to the young soldier. How could he put his life on the line for a country that despised him and how could he fight for the freedoms he personally did not enjoy?
That act of segregation was a turning point in Tucker’s life and from that time on he became a voice to be reckoned with as a Civil Rights advocate.
Some of Tucker’s colleagues feel The Two-Edged Sword is ill-tempered and is a shot at the very agencies that gave him an opportunity to live an abundant life. In fact, he says, a co-worker who he asked to critique his manuscript told him he sounded like “an angry black man criticizing everything.”
“Some guys in the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) were terrified when they heard I was writing a book,” he said. “But some agents enjoyed the book. The fact is I could have been much tougher on the USSS.”
Tucker’s life story has been described as “a best-selling 007 whodunit, more fiction than fact — yet all of it really happened.” It is at once chilling and inspiring.
“Too many times the risks were far greater than anticipated, but I was young and dumb,” writes Tucker. “I didn’t know what I was doing until I felt a .45 slammed against my head. Or, until I found myself being cuffed and dragged into a police car manned by an officer who had no way of knowing I was an undercover agent.”
“That I survived to tell my story is sheer luck,” Tucker said in an earlier interview.
He acted, as he put it, out of his own regard for the betterment of his colleagues and those who would surely follow him.
“I was fighting for blacks to have a better career,” he explained. “I was fighting for females and others also.”
When asked how the USSS has changed over the years, Tucker was candid as usual.
“I think the difference today is we have more people who are not willing to stand up and are not willing to put their financial security on the line. Today there are blacks pretending they had no trouble getting where they are in the service without the paths we paved for them. They believe they have gotten where they are without programs like affirmative action.”
Tucker cites a discrimination suit against the USSS that is still pending as evidence that a lot of work still needs to be done in federal law enforcement. He says some of the issues in the complaint are the same ones he encountered years ago.
Tucker’s example to the USSS, his fellow agents, and to readers of his book is best stated by the author himself.
“What good is this paycheck if we can’t be treated as equals?”