East on St James

by Rick Beck

Chapter 11

Less Than Civil

The time-out was a way to undo the spell Dury weaved. The law was mysterious at best for people who weren't involved with the laws. Even for attorneys that benefited, laws were written in unnecessarily complicated ways to make lawyers necessary to decode even simple business transactions.

Law, when justice was the consideration, wasn't simply mysterious in the 60s. Even white poor people understood that there were two distinctly different justice systems. Maybe they didn't want to see because they were white.

Dury finished growing up during the turmoil the 60s. In law school he was reading and studying the important cases of the day. He had access to cases that interested him.

Dury was intrigued by cases that never went to trial. They were the key to the times. If there was no trial, there was no presentation of evidence, or cross examination, no challenges. It could be used to sell flawed theories.

Some cases had the perpetrator guilty before his day in court, if it went to court at all. President Richard Nixon pronounced, 'Charlie Manson is guilty of eight murder, directly or indirectly,' at a Denver press conference. He objected to the excessive coverage the news media gave the Manson case.

In most courts this would be seen as prejudicial from an unimpeachable source, even one that wasn't beyond impeachment himself. Since everyone knew Charlie did it, it didn't amount to much. The White House, not Nixon, said, 'The president wouldn't make a prejudicial comment about a pending case.'

Reading between the lines was a good idea for an attorney. Seeing motive in the actions of participants in any activity was important. Motive didn't establish guilt but it did create suspicions that should be investigated.

After a few years of watching the legal system grind up his clients in New York City, Dury resigned from the public defenders office and started over as an attorney in one of the most beautiful cities in the south, practicing business law.

"There was no way to change anything in New York," Dury said. "It was a lumbering machine that rolled on and on. I left before it rolled over me. People doing my job year after year were only going through the motions."

"What was it like to live in New York City," Keith said. "Nothing was like New Orleans, before or after I lived there. New Orleans is probably the most European city in America. It maintains some of the flavor from the original people. The French and Creole influences are apparent, especially in the food."

"New York, when I lived there, and Bev and I lived near Greenwich Village, was amazing. The people were great. I'd still be living there if I didn't need to practice law. The city moved faster and faster while I was living there. It moved so fast it was difficult to get out of there safely.

"It was literally a rat race and I burned out on it. If you keep moving faster and faster. When you move too fast, you miss things. When I missed things, people's lives were in the balance. I had to get out. I wasn't doing my job."

"You're no quitter," Gary said with authority.

"No, I didn't quit. I knew when I had enough. I did what I did because I believed I could help people who needed help, but I couldn't even help myself. Whether I was there or not, the system rolls on," Dury said. "It did it without me."

"It's not that different down here. We don't do it as fast but we know the outcome before we start something. I was unaware of the world around me in the period you're talking about. I was becoming nine, ten, eleven back then. We didn't talk about what went on outside my house. It was the way it was.

"Black men were seen hung from trees from time to time. I'd hear people talking, but not at my house. It was only rarely reported on or talked about as far as I know," Gary said. "I didn't know lynching meant hanging a black man."

"Billie Holiday sang a song, Strange Fruit. It was about lynching. Even in the north she was warned not to sing that song, but she didn't stop. There's a theories that she died of a drug overdose because of that song," Dury said.

"Billie Holiday was murdered?" Keith asked.

"Some people say," Dury said. "That song cut to the bone. 'Strange fruit hanging from tries, blowing in the breeze.'

"Strange fruit being black men?" Keith said, shaking his head.

"King said in his letter from the Birmingham jail, 'It isn't the brutal actions of the bad people that surprises me. It's the appalling silence of the good people.' In 1963 the truth began to come out. It became harder to stay silent," Dury said.

"Our government kept secrets and we found them out. King told us and then showed us the truth. I don't recall hearing about that letter until after he was dead. Because people were getting a glimpse at segregation, Martin Luther King became the most dangerous man in America."

"Especially to J. Edgar Hoover," Keith said.

"Especially J. Edgar," Dury said.

"What did they do to those kids?" Keith asked.

"It's a discomforting story. You must realize they went to Mississippi to do something good. I'll give it to you the way I found out. I was reading all the papers to see if there was anything on them. My father knew somehow, the way he always knew about the most serious events. I guess they talked to each other over at the FBI. They weren't supposed to tell anyone they overheard.

"One Sunday morning I was sitting on the floor with the papers spread out. 'What are you searching for, Dury?' my father asked. 'Just checking on those college kids,' I said.

"My father thought about it. It was a silence that meant he'd tell me what he knew. 'This won't end well, Dury. Don't get your hopes up.'

"The FBI knew those kids were dead the day after they disappeared. An FBI informant was there when the Klan killed them," Dury said.

"The military got involved in the search for those kids. Someone told where they were buried for the reward."

"You didn't study these as legal cases?" Gary asked.

"No, there was no case for murder. It was Mississippi. They were killed by the Klan. You don't indict the Klan. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the feds prosecuted some of the men involved, but violating civil rights doesn't care the penalty that murder does."

"I know about hatred," Keith said. "Up until this decade, I've been in one of the most hated groups around. How my ability to love causes hate, I don't know."

"The people who hate gays, Keith, are incited to hate by people who make their living stirring up hatred. They are professional hate mongers."

"Why isn't that a crime, Dury?" Keith asked. "It's despicable."

"People preaching hatred are protected by the constitution and they hide behind their religion to make hatred digestible. There's big money it hate."

"Wouldn't Jesus be proud," Gary said.

"Jesus said, 'As you do to the least among you, you do to me,'" Keith said.

"That's the nice Jesus. The nice Jesus doesn't raise money or build gigantic cathedrals to worship himself."

"Shouldn't a religion based on Jesus' teachings act a bit more forgiving and accepting, like Jesus was?" Gary asked.

"You don't want to mix religion with logic," Dury said. "It's about the money these days. Divide and conquer is a direct path to control. While people fight each other for crumbs, the rich and powerful take the pie."

"For me it's about what motivates people to hate," Keith said. "I understand the preachers preaching it, but not the people who believe it. When your father hates you, hate is no longer a factor, but it kills kids who are like me. Who wants to be born into a world where you're constantly hated? I survived. Many don't."

"You got a bad deal, Keith. My old man was no picnic, but he was fair. He didn't understand me, but he taught me right from wrong and that nothing worth having comes easy."

"Like holding onto your business isn't as easy as it looks," Dury said.

"That I lesson was learned from a crook, Dury."

"It took a crook to teach me that," Gary said.

"I'd say you were raised well," Dury said. "You were well-adjusted as far as I could tell. We became friends, I think that says it all," Dury said. "Of course Keith is one of the most interesting people I've met in some time. He gives meaning to self-made. He found a way to make a difficult beginning into success. Which brings us to all the kids who never make it after being abused."

"Once I left home, I closed that door behind me," Keith said. "I met Henrietta early on in my escape. She gave me refuge, She knew I was running from something but not what and she didn't ask."

"Henrietta was a good woman. She could see I was an innocent kid who needed help. She didn't need to know my past to give me shelter."

"No one asked if I was a good kid. I showed interest in what they did, and they began teaching me how it was done. As long as I paid attention, they kept teaching me. I had a long way to go to be as good as they were," Gary said.

"I spent my apprenticeship peeling potatoes and onions. Then Henrietta had me doing prep, and I'd hand her the ingredients as she needed them. I was learning what it took to be a cook. Where you find people, you need cooks. There was a security that came with what Henrietta taught me. I could walk into any restaurant, tell them I was a cook, and before I knew it, I was standing at the stove. A man who owns a restaurant is in constant search for good cooks."

"Building is like that, but there are hard times when there is no building," Gary said. "People always need to eat."

"Someone stolen what your life was about, as I recall. That might give you indigestion when you ate. You were fairly rational, Gary. You didn't go get a gun. You got a lawyer instead, and you got what belonged to you back. You were smart. Men often aren't smart. They resort to violence and lose everything."

"I suppose I was. It turned out fine, but I had a lot of sleepless nights. You kept saying we were fine, Dury. I wasn't sure you were telling me the truth until the judge fell on that guy."

"Most laws are clear, Gary. There are things you can't get away with. Forgery to commit grand larceny is one of those. If he'd slid those papers over in front of you and said, 'Sign these,' and you signed them, he may have gotten away with it. The judge would have asked, 'Is this your signature?' If you said yes, he'd have sent us packing."

"I don't sign anything without reading it. I had millions of dollars tied up in housing developments. I was after the best deal on the best material money could buy. I checked things for details i missed before signing anything."

"You got your business back," Dury said. "The delays were all because of your partner's attorney. Maybe you'd die or lose interest after a few years. Once we got in front of a judge, well, you know the rest."

"I admit I doubted you a few times over those two years. My wife and I were on food stamps. Who was going to hire a contractor to lay brick or hang drywall? I can answer that. No one," Gary said. "I took odd jobs fixing the neighbors plumbing and sticking in a fuse when their power went off. I made enough to keep us afloat, but the economy was bad. The construction industry was in a depression in the early 80s."

"I'd been around law long enough to know you had a case. Once I verified the facts, I filed our suit. It took six months to get my ducks all in order."

"Some people don't care about what they do to each other," Keith said.

"This was pure human greed. It's quite logical to the perpetrator. 'I need it more than he does.'"

"Why spend so much time and energy trying to swindle someone?" Keith said. "If they put all that effort into something legal, they'd end up better off."

"When I first became a contractor, before I lost my business, I went looking for the men who taught me the trade. I was a good builder and I hired the best men I could find, starting with my teachers. I gave them all the work they needed, and when a kid came on a job site holding the help wanted sign, those men who trained me knew what I expected. Most of those kids didn't make it to the second hod of bricks, but once in a while, we got a keeper and they trained a next generation builder."

"When I went to work for Henrietta, no one said anything to me. I was mostly in the back, getting things for Henrietta and doing prep. Then the customers began to joked about Henrietta hiring a white boy. She wasn't having any of it and she made that clear. No one gave me any grief. After the first year, Henrietta was slowing down, so I served the food. She'd tell me who it went to. I knew everyone by name. They said, 'Thank you, Mr. Keith.'"

"Henrietta sounds like she knew what she was doing," Gary said.

"What I knew about black and white, I was raised in a white world," Keith said. "And I went to work in a black one. I saw no reason to be mean to anyone. No one but my father ever called me a sissy. I never knew why."

"What the hell did he want from you? You were a kid?" Gary objected. "Some people shouldn't be allowed to have kids."

"That's not the American way. Have all you want, but you better have them. After that, they're on their own," Dury said.

"Yeah, if you get hungry enough, you'll get a job," Gary said.

"If he'd said that, I'd know what he meant," Keith said.

"There was nothing wrong with you, Keith," Gary said. "You got a lemon for an old man. Look at yourself. You're a success man. Your old man was a loser."

"They killed those kids for registering people to vote?" Keith said, still working on the college boys.

"Killing white kids brought a lot of attention to Mississippi. It was very different from when they killed blacks. If they'd just killed Chaney, no one would have noticed. Mickey Schweitzer, the oldest of the three, helped organize the voter registration. The Klan knew who he was. They may have thought by killing him it would stop the registration," Dury said. "The killings were a warning to civil rights workers. 'You don't want to fuck with the Klan. Stay out of Mississippi.'"

"I was around black people. I don't think they missed hanging around white folks," Gary said. "It was a working relationship. Even when I hired them to work for me, it was business. We didn't go get a beer together or associate away from work. I helped a few out that got into financial trouble, but I did that for all my employees. If I could help, I would helped. I treated them with respect and they returned the favor."

"Lynchings, church burnings, black men terrorized at home. Why would they want anything to do with whites?" Dury asked.

"The black men who taught me the trade were good men," Gary said.

"You showed them you wanted to learn," Dury said. "You hired them when you became a contractor."

"They killed three kids and thought they'd get away with it?" Keith asked.

"They weren't so smart as they thunk they was," Gary said. "They did stand trial. I remember seeing a picture of that sheriff's deputy, Cecil something, on the courthouse steps."

"Quite true. Someone was talking. The FBI had the names of the murderers, including the sheriff's deputy and the other men who were there. The FBI was in the south. Someone was talking and no one knew who."

"But they knew who killed Emmett Till too," Keith said.

"Emmett was a black boy. While what happened to him was horrific, there would be no justice for him in Mississippi. The FBI could take down local Klansman for violating the new Civil Rights Act. They'd use it to take down the men who killed those college kids. Just not for murder," Dury said. "There's a movie, Mississippi Burning, that gives an idea of what the FBI faced."

"I've got to pee again," Gary said, getting up to head for the bathroom. "Maybe hold up until I'm done. I don't want to miss anything."

"I can get some coffee on so Gary can drive home," Keith said. "I'd offer to drive him, but I don't drive."

"We need to correct that, Keith. You can't be out here and not be able to drive somewhere if you need to. What if something happens to me?" Dury asked.

"I'd call 911," Keith said.

"After they come to get me?"

"I'd be here by myself?"

"I'll show you the basics. Even without a driver's license, you'd be able to drive somewhere in a pinch."

"I've been watching people drive all my life. I just never had the urge. I could do it if I wanted to."

"No harm in making sure you're able to drive my car."

"No," Keith said. "No harm in getting familiar with it."

"You could call Gary. He'd come to your aid."

"Yes, that's a thought. He'd check on me if he knew you went to the hospital."

"Yes, he would. That makes me feel better," Dury said.

Keith got up and went to make a pot of coffee. It was getting late. If they kept talking, he'd need some caffeine before long.

Getting busy would keep the college students off his mind.

Gary made a stop by the kitchen on his way back from the bathroom. Since there was only one good sized serving of banana pudding, he took it. No point in letting it go to waste. It was really good.

"Help yourself to the banana pudding, Gary," Dury said, as Gary came into the living room with the dessert.

"I would, but some schmuck took it all, and I don't think he's even sorry."

"You can tell the schmuck that I had another whole pudding in the fridge. I'm used to cooking for a mob. I always make too much," Keith said.

"I don't know if I can afford all this banana pudding," Dury said.

"It's not that fattening, Dury," Keith said.

"Well, that isn't what I meant. How much are bananas these days?"

"Pop charges thirty-nine cents a pound. It's one of his sale items. The pudding was ninety-nine cents. Now he gets his money back on things like Vanilla Wafers. It was a choice between those or a barrel of oil."

"I'd go with the wafers every time," Gary said, scrapping his bowl clean.

"Compliments to the chef. That's so good it's probably illegal," Gary said.

"No. It isn't even difficult to make if you can turn on a burner and have a sauce pan."

"Speaking of burners, Mr. Lane, the other orator please?" Gary wanted to know. "This other stuff is too depressing. I never knew the details, and now that I do, I wish I didn't. I knew King gave speeches and got shot by a loser named Earl. The other orator has to end up better than King," Gary decided. "How much trouble can you get into making speeches? Very few folks get shot for it."

"If I tell you that everything I tell you was life altering, you aren't going to believe me. It just so happens at that time, 1963, '64, '65, I was fully engaged with what was going on, Gary, it was like driving on a nice smooth road all your life...."

"Don't start without me," Keith yelled, as he was coming out of the kitchen. "Coffee in ten minutes."

"As I was saying, that period in my life was like driving on a nice smooth super highway and suddenly, while going sixty, you hit a rut filled gravel section of road. It gets your attention. That's what happened as the middle "60s unfolded. It was one thing after another. We got over one traumatic event and were hit with something as bad or worse. A little like boxing Mohammed Ali."

"Why do I have the feeling you're leaving some things out," Keith asked. "Before you move on, you indicated there were other events you hadn't mentioned. Since so much of what you told us is depressing, why don't we get it out of the way before you start in a new direction. What else was going on when those three college kids were murdered?"

"Gary was asking about the other orator, while you put the coffee on," Dury explained. "That's fine, but if other things happened that helped shape you, maybe tell us before we move on," Keith said. "I wasn't alive at the time and I have no memory of what you've told us so far. You just indicated there was a lot going on that lead you to studying the law."

"Yeah, he's right, Dury. Go ahead with what kinds of things were happening down there. Then we won't need to come back to it."

"OK! A church bombing in Birmingham killed four little black girls. Medger Evers, a field worker for the NAACP was gunned down in front of his house. That was... '63 I think. His murder, de la Beckworth, I believe, was arrest, tried and convicted, over thirty years later, but he was convicted by a Mississippi jury."

"Will wonders never cease," Gary said. "See us southerns do learn if you give us enough time."

"How come that doesn't thrill me," Keith said.

"Didn't thrill de la Beckworth either. He was part of Old Mississippi."

"The movie the Help showed what it was like for black women working for white woman in Jackson," Keith said.

"Medgar Evers is mentioned in the Help, Keith. He was killed in Jackson. They were on a bus and the cops told the blacks to get off, not referring to them as black either. There's a black man who gets off with the narrator, one of the maids, and he offers to walk her home, because she looks scared, but she's too suspicious of him to let him walk with her."

"That's paranoid," Gary said.

"See the Help and you'll understand why she was paranoid," Keith said.

"Yeah, I recall that scene," Keith said.

"After the college kids are killed, Malcolm X is murdered. LBJ signed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution during that period. Civil rights was a constant story between '63 to '65. I didn't give it to you in order, but that's what I remember." "Why don't we move on to the other orator who was in King's league. You heard both of them speak?" Gary asked.

"I did," Dury said.

"I want to hear about him. This other stuff is depressing me."

"History can do that. As grand a civilization as we have, the people leave a little something to be desired. Reading the sanitized version gives you the idea man isn't all he's cracked up to be. Living the history means you don't know how it is all interlinked. Many times truth doesn't enter the picture until later."

"Some events I've already mentioned came after the story I'm about to tell," Dury said.

"This is about the orator?" Gary wanted to make sure.

"Yes, Gary, the story of the second orator I told you about goes back to 1963 again. You'll see why we need to return to that year to speak of him. This will be apparent before I'm done."

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