Justice? [fourth daily dose of How I Came to be a Lawyer]

Leaving the Courthouse later that morning, I could maybe have thought, “Yea, Justice, Glad I went to law school,” because Fabio truly was grateful – even brought me a gold pen & pencil set as a gift a few days later.  But I didn’t.  In the intervening 10 years between my own courtroom injustice and Fabio’s semi-rendering of justice, I’d come to learn far too much about a world filled with injustice.  [Read “What I Did with My College Education.”]   I was thinking about the King and Kennedy assassinations, the Chicago police riot, those who died at Kent State, Watergate, the falsely charged Indians at Wounded Knee, and Black Panther Fred Hampton’s murder.  I was just starting on my career to change things inside the Halls of Justice.  Only I was slowly beginning to realize that the law is often the last thing to change and mostly the tool of those with plenty of money and property to keep peace for the status quo.   Oliver Wendell Holmes was right when he said “The Path of the Law is the Experience of the People.”

I’d also learned first-hand in law school the separation between law and politics.  My father had a stuttering problem so he couldn’t be a teacher even though that’s what he wanted to be.  So instead he wrote and edited reading and writing programs for kids in first through sixth grade.  He was pretty good at it.  In 1968 D. C. Heath & Co. (a huge text book publishing house) hired my father to write a brand new set of text books where not all the kids were white, had a dog named Spot, and lived in grassy suburbs with both a mom and a dad.  The books became a big hit – D. C. Heath’s sales force was in all 50 states and it looked like the Dawkins were going to be millionaires even at only a nickel a book.  The first state to adopt my father’s text books was the State of West Virginia.  The teachers who met to decide the state-wide curriculum and purchase of text books also voted to adopt a high school reading program that included some excerpts from Black Panther Leader Eldridge Cleaver.

Marchers in support of Dad's books

Marchers in support of Dad’s books

But Justice wasn’t able to handle what happened next.  One single individual was able to stop this improved education curriculum in all 50 states, and my first year Constitutional Law Professor told me there was nothing the law could do about it – it was strictly in the political domain.  I could do nothing as a lawyer to save my father’s books, to give more kids a chance to be better readers, to have the Dawkins become millionaires.  Here’s what happened:  A Fundamentalist Baptist on the Charleston (West Virginia) School Board had decided the books the teachers adopted were “un-American,” didn’t stick to a White America view of history and had too many open-ended questions for the kids to answer themselves rather than strict teaching of a moral code, and she got the coal miners to go on a sympathy strike until the teachers rescinded.  After the UPS driver was driven away at gun point from delivering the books, Walter Cronkite went down and did a special report for CBS national news.  The sales force reported after that no one wanted to touch the books.   (There, however, is one happy ending to this story – my dad’s stuttering problem went away and he’s still teaching remedial reading to community college kids.  At age 90 !)

Tomorrow:  Power to the People!

 


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