Journey for Justice documentary will honor lawyers who fought for civil rights in Birmingham
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – While the battle for civil rights unfolded on the streets of Birmingham in the early 1960s, lawyers were also fighting in courtrooms to win the freedom of jailed protestors and challenge unjust laws.
The contribution lawyers made to the civil rights movement in Birmingham is the subject of the Journey for Justice Project, a 26-minute documentary film being made by producer Mike Letcher at the University of Alabama Center for Public Television.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell said the film project from the bar associations is one of the partnerships the city is promoting during the year-long 50th anniversary of 1963, a pivotal year in the civil rights movement.
“No one stood up better than individuals within the legal community who heard the call and the cry of Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King and others in the movement to make sure it wasn’t just action in the street, but we had action within the courtroom and in congress and in the statehouse to change the laws that held people of color back,” Bell said.
Magic City Bar Association President Tameka Wren said they were excited about partnering with the Birmingham Bar Association and its charitable arm, the Birmingham Bar Foundation, on a project that will showcase the often “unsung heroes” of the civil rights movement. Some lawyers, even under the threat of death, stepped forward to help get protestors out of jail and fight cases in court, she said.
Arnita Brown Foster, president of the Bar Foundation, said the project also includes the Bar Foundation’s Journey for Justice Gala, which will be held May 4 at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center. The film will debut at the gala.
Another component of the project is education. Volunteer lawyers will go into area high school and show the film or portions of it and talk to students about it.
The bar associations are still seeking sponsorships from law firms and corporations to help pay for the film. Any money remaining will go to the Magic City Bar Association’s scholarship programs and Birmingham Bar Foundation’s programs.
The film project will honor the works of 28 lawyers, both black and white, who worked for civil rights in the Birmingham area.
Robert R. Baugh, president of the Birmingham Bar Association, said the Birmingham Bar Association in 1962 recommended in a study that the city’s form of government be changed to a mayor-council form of government. That change in form of government led the next year to the ouster of the three-member commission that had run the city, including public safety commissioner Bull Connor who had ordered fire hoses and dogs turned on protestors.
Among the lawyers who are being honored is Clarence Jones, an attorney for King who helped sneak King’s famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail from the jail.
Another one is a white attorney, Chuck Morgan, had to shut down his legal practice and move from the city after he spoke out at the Birmingham Young Men’s Business Club in the aftermath of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls, that the entire community should all take responsibility for the climate of hate that had led to the bombing.
“We’re very proud to be telling their story,” Baugh said.
Other lawyers, including several judges, listed as honorees in the project are:
Oscar W. Adams Jr.; Norman Amaker; James K. Baker; Abe Berkowitz; Orzell Billingsley; Harvey Burg; U.W. Clemon; Jerome “Buddy” Cooper; J. Mason Davis; Edward Friend Jr.; Peter A. Hall; Charles Hamilton Houston: Frank M. Johnson; Paul Johnston; Tom King Sr.; Thurgood Marshall; Nina Miglionico; Constance Baker Motley; Demetrius Newton; Vernon Patrick; J. Richmond Pearson; Arthur D. Shores; C. Erskine Smith; Robert Vance; David Vann; and W.L. Williams Jr.