Black Farmers in the US
The fate of the
black family farm in the US
For an update, click here:
40 Acres and a dream
Targeted for elimination?
This short film documents how black farmers in America have been systematically discriminated against by the adminstrators of federally funded agricultural loan programs.
Produced by The Photography Channel and narrated by photographer John Ficara, "Distant Echoes" reveals the consequences of this long standing policy and practice of denying black farmers access to financing.
David Snider is the Creator and Executive Producer of the Photography Channel.
October 1, 2008
J.L. Chestnut Jr., Early Leader in Civil Rights Movement, Is Dead at 77
By BRUCE WEBER
J. L. Chestnut Jr., who after attending law school in Washington returned to his hometown, Selma, Ala., and set up shop in 1958 as the city’s first black lawyer, and who went on to fight for voting rights for blacks, laying the
groundwork for the march led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965, died Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala. He was 77 and lived in Selma.
The cause was kidney failure after an illness of several months, his daughter Vivian said.
Long a well-known figure among Alabama lawyers, Mr. Chestnut was an underpublicized figure in the civil rights movement, a black man who began his career by taking on the ordinary legal briefs of ordinary black men and women, daring to work within the white establishment to achieve just ends.
He was a pioneer for blacks in the legal field in Alabama, founding a law firm, eventually known as Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders & Pettway, that through the 1990s was the largest black firm in the state.
Among other successes, his firm represented a coalition of black farmers in Pigford vs. Glickman, in which the claim that the farmers were discriminated against over a period of decades in programs overseen by the Department of
Agriculture was adjudicated in 1999 and eventually settled, with nearly $1 billion in reparations paid to black farmers through this June.
Known as a clever and mesmerizing speaker with an easy charm in front of a jury and a flair for drama in a closing argument, Mr. Chestnut was at home in the courtroom even when the courtroom was an unfriendly place.
“I remember a trial in Jasper, Ala., where a Klansman was being tried for killing a black man,” one of his law partners, Rose Sanders, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “He was so effective that the judge stopped
the trial, and said, ‘Chestnut, it’s getting dark, and I got to get you on the road out of town.’ ”
In the early 1960s, as the voting rights movement coalesced around Selma, Mr. Chestnut’s experience in the local community was invaluable to civil rights leaders who visited the area. And when demonstrators arrived and were
thrown in jail, it was often as not Mr. Chestnut who got them out.
“I don’t know what would have happened to us in Selma if it wasn’t for Chestnut,” said Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, who was jailed and beaten by the Selma police. “Selma was a vicious place, vicious. I don’t know how he survived there, I really don’t. He used the law to help liberate the black folk of Alabama. He was a lawyer, but he was also a foot soldier. He was a brave and courageous man.”
J. L. Chestnut Jr. was born in Selma on Dec. 16, 1930. The initials were his name; according to his autobiography, “Black in Selma,” written with Julia Cass, his father was named after a white banker his father’s mother had
admired. J. L. Sr., with his two brothers, owned a grocery; young J. L.’s mother was an elementary school teacher. J. L. Jr. He attended Selma’s segregated schools and graduated from Dillard University in NEW ORLEANS before going to law school at Howard University, at a time when the landmark
Brown vs. the Board of Education was being prepared and argued. He moved back to the South with the belief that that was where the next legal battles for civil rights would be fought.
In Selma, he told the writer Gay Talese, who met Mr. Chestnut in 1965 and wrote about him in his 2006 memoir, “A Writer’s Life,” that he decided early on not to kowtow to judges who disdained him, recalling one instance where a
judge warned him not to be disrespectful to any of the women in his office.
“I have never been disrespectful of a lady in my life,” Mr. Chestnut replied, “and unlike you, I also respect black women.”
On the other hand, Mr. Chestnut often recalled that before George Wallace became the segregationist governor of Alabama, he was the one judge who treated him with respect and insisted that others do so as well.
“Judge George Wallace was the most liberal judge I ever practiced law in front of,” Mr. Chestnut said in an interview for the public television documentary “George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire.” “He was the first
judge to call me ‘mister’ in an Alabama courtroom.”
Mr. Chestnut pried dozens if not hundreds of voting rights demonstrators out of Selma’s jails, and he was present at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, a day that became known as Bloody Sunday when the police beat
demonstrators to prevent them from beginning a march to Montgomery. It was two weeks later that the march, led by Dr. King, was actually completed.
In subsequent years, Mr. Chestnut filed civil rights cases to have blacks allowed on juries in Dallas County, which includes Selma; to desegregate the Selma public schools; and to ensure blacks the opportunity to be coaches and
principals in the desegregated schools.
In addition to his daughter Vivian, he is survived by his wife of 56 years, also named Vivian; two other daughters, Shandra and Gearld; three sons, J. L. 3rd, Terrance and Gregory; a sister, Johnnie Mae; six grandchildren; and
“He was a legend down here,” said Michael Jackson, the district attorney for Dallas County, who is currently the only black district attorney in Alabama.
“As a young attorney, he was the best trial attorney I’d ever seen. I certainly wouldn’t be in office if it wasn’t for people like him.”
* * *
Remembering J.L. Chestnut
Published Wednesday, October 1, 2008
“I see my own life as helping to realize the dream in my world in Alabama.
Though I never imagined I’d spend my whole life in little Selma, I don’t know of any better place I could have taken a stand. Selma is my home. I love Selma. It’s my life.”
J.L. Chestnut closed his book, co-authored with Julia Cass, with these words.
On Tuesday morning, Chestnut, known to many of his friends as “Chess,” died in a hospital in Birmingham. Family members said he had suffered from various illnesses for a long time.
Many will miss his presence on his radio program — something friends said he dearly loved to do several times each week. He’d stir the pot with a special guest or two, then use the time to teach a bit of history of this city he
loved so much.
It is through his voice that so many knew Chestnut.
He gave voice to that history of Selma he knew so well, from the Great Depression and that time of segregation when black people sat in the “buzzard roof” of the theater, couldn’t try on clothes in department stores or went to S.H. Kress because it had the only “colored” bathroom in a
(Brasscheck note: Why do I hear the strains of "Deutchland, Deutland uber alles" ringing in my head as I read this ? Was their any significant difference between how blacks were treated in the US and Jews were treated under Hitler?)
He gave voice to those during the Jim Crow era that were voiceless by going to law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and returning home two years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down school segregation with
the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. For years, Chestnut was Selma’s first and only black attorney.
He was present by the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday in 1965. The event, he said, became his turning point as it did for many black Americans after the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Chestnut was a student of power and how it affected blacks and whites in the South. He analyzed it and worked to give voice to blacks and whites that had none in that power struggle.
He was not always appreciated or liked by some — the downside of living life as an advocate. Chestnut did not mince words. He did not suffer fools lightly. He believed Selma progressed from confrontation, and Chestnut was
not afraid to be confrontational when he felt it was needed. His life, even to the end, was a struggle.
He spoke of himself as much as he did of Martin Luther King Jr. when he observed the struggle for equal rights more than a generation after the Voting Rights Act passed.
“We are far from the world envisioned by King in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” Chestnut wrote. “We are closer to it, but getting there will continue to be a struggle. People forgot that King said near the end of that
speech, ‘I [now] go back to the South’ — meaning to implement the dream of freedom and justice for all by marches, boycotts, and other means the establishment detested. I see King, at the expense of his life, striving to realize the dream, not just pleasantly dreaming.”
For more Food: videos, click here
See the complete catalog of
brasscheck tv videos
Subscribe to Brasscheck TV
Subscribe to Brasscheck TV - free
Every time we post a new video,
we'll send you a notice by e-mail.