As you can surmise from that, in the
mid-to-late ‘60s, my town and the folks
at the university were involved in civil
rights activities. As a young man, a high
school senior, I was there watching civil
rights activities as they were unfolding.
A friend of mine was involved in
those activities. His name was Delano
Middleton. We called him “Bump”
Middleton. And in 1968 people were
protesting their right to public access to
a bowling alley, and three men were shot
and killed as a part of that. Middleton,
my friend from high school, was one of
During that timeframe, I observed that
folks were being arrested, and they weren’t
getting adequate representation because
there weren’t a lot of black lawyers in
Orangeburg, South Carolina, who had the
wherewithal to get them out of jail. So folks
would go to jail and lawyers would come
from other places—I think the NAACP
lawyers, quite frankly—who would get folks
out of jail; and I thought then, “There’s
something wrong with our system of justice.”
That was what initially attracted me to
So I went to law school and got a job
doing what I did as a lawyer. Now I’ve gone
full circle, back to advocating for the civil
rights of folks who’ve been aggrieved—just
in a different context.
Q: As a kid, did you feel like the civil
rights movement was far away—in
Montgomery or Birmingham—or did you
feel it was nearby?
A: I was there. When I say my friend was
killed, I was there.
Q: You were at the protest?
A: Yeah, I was there.
Q: Did you see it happen?
A: No. Quite frankly, we were running.
Because the police were firing at us.
So I did not see him die. But it touched
everyone in our community.
Q: When did you become aware of the
civil rights movement as a movement?
A: That’s an interesting question. I mean …
I guess the question becomes: When did I
realize I was black? [Laughs] You kind of know
as a kid growing up that the world is not the
same for you as for other people. When you
grow up in a town that has fountains that say
“colored” and “white,” you know that there’s
an imbalance in how the world functions. I’m
from a family where we discussed that kind
of thing at the dinner table at night, and we
were aware that there were movements afoot
in my town and other towns of the South. I
was 12 or 13. I was old enough to know that
that kind of thing existed. So I’ve always
known that there’s a civil rights movement of
some type and a need for it.
This is going to sound corny: My family
were big subscribers of Ebony magazine and
Jet magazine, which covered all that stuff
for as long as I can remember. We would
get those magazines, and my brothers and
I would fight my parents to see who would
have the opportunity to read it first.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My father is retired. He was an engineer.
But in South Carolina being an engineer
doesn’t mean anything. He got the
engineering background but he didn’t get any
engineering jobs. But that was his training.
And my mom worked in the educational
system in my county for a long time.
Q: You were in the military, too.
Thoughts on that?
A: On being in the military? It encourages any
young man to be disciplined and organized.
Put it this way: If you join the military, or are
drafted into the military, and you have a
chance to serve under those conditions, it
prepares you for a lot of other things in life. So
when I got out of the service and went back to
college, college was kind of fun. It was easy. It
was almost like a walk in the park.
Q: Outside of technological changes,
what are some of the big changes in the
law you’ve witnessed during your career?
A: I think there’s oftentimes less civility
than when I first started. I don’t know
whether that’s a function of just the
world being less civil and the pressures
associated with law practice reflecting that.
Q: Anything you’d like to talk about that
I haven’t brought up?
A: No. But I really do enjoy this. A lot of
people practice law because that’s what
they’re required to do for other reasons. I
do it because I enjoy it.
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SISTRUNK TALKS ABOUT
WHAT DREW HIM TO THE LAW