"Help is on the way! I see it. Look about you ... the future is even more than bright if we will just hold out, stand up and be counted." -- J.L. Chestnut
J.L. Chestnut passed this week. He may be unknown to many folks outside of Selma and Alabama. However, his passing provides a moment to meditate on the life of a man with the vision and steel to change the direction and history of the United States. J.L. Chestnut acted as a fulcrom, shifting the direction of law, civil rights, and life in the deep south.
In America today, rarely do human events pivot based on the choices of a single person. In 1958 J.L. Chestnut was the first black attorney in Selma Alabama. It was a time where the power of law was absolutely abritrary, the daily events and lives of blacks were always uncertain and dependant upon the worst traits of white society; beaten for not saying ma'am or sir, jailed for not stepping off the sidewalk, killed for looking at someone the wrong way. The separate and unequal application of the the bill of rights and constitution undermines any principles eminating from our creator. Years before the Voting Rights and Civil Rights act J.L. Chestnut changed the lives of blacks in the deep south one by one, while laying the legal foundation for civil rights changes in the following decades.
" ... He was the first judge in Alabama to call me "Mister" in a courtroom. Really, in many courtrooms, I couldn't even sit inside the railing. I had to sit outside while the other lawyers sat inside. And when the judge called my case, my client and I got up and went before the judge. But that didn't happen in Judge Wallace's court. George Wallace said, "Mr. Chestnut," and I was almost shocked to hear that, it was so unusual. Also, Wallace was for the underdog. I was representing some poor black farmers who had been stripped of their cotton by a major cotton oil processor in Birmingham, and they sent down these high-priced lawyers and all that. And Wallace was sitting there looking at them, and I was sitting over at another table with my little clients in overalls and all of that. And these people looked down on us, these lawyers did. They wouldn't even refer to us as plaintiffs. They just said, "those people," with a good deal of scorn. And you could see Wallace getting tense over that and giving them the eye. And finally he said to them, "When you address Mr. Chestnut from now on, you will address him as Mr. Chestnut. You will refer to his clients as the plaintiffs. Do you understand?" And they understood. And Wallace ruled against them and ruled for me in every case."
Another hero slips away from us into memory and history. We keep his story and leadership in our minds, and redouble our efforts. - Brian
"Help is on the way! I see it. Look about you ... the future is even more than bright if we will just hold out, stand up and be counted." Another hero slips away from us into memory and history. We keep his story and leadership in our minds, and redouble our efforts. - Brian