Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Racial Discrimination

BOND: And so you finish law school, you go to work for them [Legal Defense Fund].

JONES: I go to work for them.

BOND: And over time --

JONES: And I stopped the death penalty, and I spent my whole time running across the South, primarily in Alabama and Georgia, representing black men who were on death row for allegedly raping white females. That's what they were on death row for.

BOND: Yeah, because that carried the death penalty.

JONES: Rape! Because it -- and the death penalty could be anything the state decided. I have tried cases in which the state of Alabama had tried to get the death penalty for a sixty-year-old black man for nighttime burglary. Nighttime burglary, capital offense in Birmingham! So, I worked on the Ku Klux Klan, you know, the whole thing. I was going to court and the bailiff would come and tell me to "Move, lady, this is for the lawyers." No. "Ma'am, this is for the lawyer," being polite, you know. Big man, six-four, six-five, guns on both hips.

BOND: And when you told him you were the lawyer?

JONES: Mouths would drop, first with disbelief and then they would have to go check with somebody. You know, and the judges! I mean, they just couldn't believe it. I mean this is '71, '72, '73 in the deep South. Deep South. There was one case I had in Cullman, Alabama. It was so deep. I was trying to get a change of venue for a young black boy. And I told the judge, I said, "Judge, you know there's a lot of racial animus here." I said, "There's a sign that says" – and I quote, it used the N word – it said, "Nigger, if you're reading this sign you're too deep in Cullman." I said, "That's on the side of the road." And he said, "Oh! I've heard about that sign, but I've never seen it."