Attorney C. B. King first black lawyer in Southwest Georgia said he saw most of life through a "Black perspective."
After two years I understood completely, but at first it was culture
shock. Once we were driving along on the main street of the white part
of All-Benny [
Albany, GA]. Traffic was bumper to bumper and
an elderly white lady was trying to maneuver her parked car into
traffic, with not much success. She finally caught C.B.'s eye, we were
parallel to her, and made this kind of helpless motion, like please let
me in. C.B. in response moved up about half a foot so it was impossible
for her to get out.
I was a little annoyed and said, "C.B. you don't know anything about that ol' white lady. Why not give her a break? She may be a perfectly decent, nonracist, church lady."
C.B. gave me one of his "tolerate this dumb white idiot" smiles and said, "Rob" (if you had a last name similar to a first name he called you a diminution of your last name). So, "Rob," he said, "life is too short for me to figure out which white folks mean me harm and which are not a problem for me. It's not my job to figure it out. It's their job to show me."
He was one ornery guy. Absolutely fearless. I once asked why he didn't pack a gun like every cracker and most Blacks in Albany. "Rob, I don't know much about guns, but I do know there are a whole lot of crackers who know more about guns than I do. I have a wife and 5 'rug rats' at home. I count on my mouth and my speed to keep me safe. A gun will surely get me killed."
A year later C. B. and I were in Americus, Sumter County, visiting the guys charged with insurrection carrying a death penalty, John Perdew, Zev Aelony, Don Harris, and Ralph Allen. I had driven up and on the way to the car told C.B. I was pretty bushed if he didn't mind driving.
"Of course not." So he got behind the wheel and suddenly noticed a hot and burning sensation on his buttocks (that's what he called his butt). Turns out these MF's had poured battery acid all over his seat. It was not comforting to think it was intended for Moi . . .
Jesus those were such exciting days. You really felt like life was so simple, so (excuse the pun) black and white. "Ohh, ohh, ohh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome, some day. The truth will set us free (oh lord), oh yes the truth shall set us free (oh lord), the truth will set us free, some dayayayay, and and and deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall be-e-e free (yes, lord) some day."
When I went back to All-Benny for the unveiling, or whatever it's called, of the new C.B. King Federal Courthouse, at one point a bunch of us Snickers and Snick support folks (lawyers like me, essentially) gathered in the local Movement Museum which is set up in the old Mt. Zion church and we were asked to go around the room and speak for a bit about our relationship to C.B. and what brought us South originally, and so forth so dutifully, like good little bright white chillun, we recited our pieces.
Until Drew Days III. Drew was THE Solicitor General of the United States under Clinton and then went back to teaching at Yale this boy be smart! When Drew's turn came, he tilted his head back, opened his mouth and sang, "This Little Light of Mine, I'm gonna let it shine, oh oh, this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it, let it shine..."
Man we did those verses for about an hour..."All over all-benny joe- jah, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it sh-i-i-i-ne." And of course the remnants of the Freedom Singers were there including Bertha Reagan oh my Lord it's times like that when I wish I could carry a tune, or even pop my fingers on the beat or against the beat but not in the middle of the fucking beat. Do you know what it's like in a room full of people poppin their fingers, or clappin, and you come in, mid beat? Fucking humiliating, that's what it is.
Though I must tell you, one day when I was feeling especially bad about my inability to pop my fingers at the right time probably listening to a Baptist choir warm up the mass meeting and leaned over to C.B. and confessed, he started laughing and said, "Rob, I am the only Black man in the entire United States who doesn't dare pop or clap as I'll get by two or three beats and then, completely off."
Many years later I mentioned that story to Carol [C.B.'s wife], who said, "Sometimes I think it was our lack of rhythm that drew us together."
One day, C.B., who was, as Peter de L can testify, one of the most formal, really almost stiff people ever until he trusted you enough to let down his guard, C.B. and I were talking about lynchings and he said, "You know Rob, one day I am going to Atlanta and in the middle of Peachtree Plaza (or whatever that big intersection is called) I am going to drop my drawers and end lynchings for all time."
God I loved that man.
C.B. and I once drove through a town called TyTy in SWGa. Legend had it that the town was so small the "entering Ty" and the "leaving Ty" were back to back on the same post. Hence, Ty Ty. Anyhow we saw a roadside stand, but it looked like the Parthenon or some other Greek bldg. We were greeted by a very eccentric "southern gentleman" who seemed not to notice that C.B. and I were of different races (though he may have simply assumed, as so many did, that I was Black, but "high yaller."
He sold tons of boiled peanuts, so we bought a bag. They were really fucking awful. He also invited us to go down into his bomb shelter. C.B. had big balls, so I followed nervously behind, convinced that any minute the trap door would shut on us and that would be the end. But he followed me down and showed us a very fancy bomb shelter. He also spoke Greek and Latin (though you couldn't prove it by me). Went to college somewhere like Yale. He was delighted with C.B.'s erudition and wanted us to stay forever. Sorry, sir, but we are off to Cordele. Somewhere. You'll never convince me that boiled peanuts are edible.
I remember one day when a cat named Butterball a very large, fat, light-skinned Black man, but an expert pool shooter was lounging outside the poolhall [Dick Gay's poolhall in Harlem]. He was chatting with another pool player leaning on the windowsill when C.B. and I walked by. He called out, "Say lawyer King, you lookin good" (C.B. would spend his last dollar on beautiful silk suits.) Then he turned to his pal and said, in a stage whisper, "That my lawyer, lawyer King, I always likes to see my lawyer lookin good" (i.e. prosperous and successful). That's when I realized that poor clients do not want to be represented by some hippie looking dude in torn jeans. They do want their lawyer "lookin good."
I could tell 1000 C. B. stories, each funnier than the last. One of the
more frightening was an early experience of mine at a trial in possibly
Milledgeville (tho not sure, maybe even Baker County as
I was new down there I at first could not tell which little town I was
in from one day to the next). Anyhow a whaaat gurl [
girl] was the prosecutrix charging a Black man with forcibly
raping her. The sheriff stopped the lynch mob from taking him from the
She told this horrific story of this Black man offering her a ride home (she had a spat with her boyfriend and started walking) and then he suddenly veered off the road into the woods, forced her at knife point to disrobe, and raped her. On cross, C. B. established that she only disrobed because this monster was holding a knife against her. She then allowed as to how he then undressed. C. B. asked her, while he was disrobing, who held the knife.
"Why I did."
I had seen all these angry red cracker faces (the courtroom had been cleared to protect this flower of the South from embarrassment), but they were all scrunched up looking into the little diamond window in the door to the court room. I scouted out a back exit behind the Judge's bench and whispered to C. B., just before the case was dismissed, that we should head out that way as quickly as we could. C. B. completely ignored me, methodically put all his papers in his briefcase, then strode up to the front door of the courtroom, slamming it open and knocking the peering and peeping crackers every which way. Before they recovered we were in the car, I was driving about 100 mph while we were chased to the Dougherty County line by a dozen pickups with rifles and shotguns in the back window. He loved to scare me like that.
Copyright © Dennis Roberts
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