Twenty-seven years ago,
Ronnie Barlow, a 22-year-old black man,
worked as a forklift operator at a Mesa hospital
and rode a bicycle to work. Every workday,
he was bullied on his way home by a group
of routinely inebriated young white men who
often physically intimidated him while yelling
racist slurs. Eventually, Barlow felt the need to
obtain a small Davis P-380 pistol.
One October night, Barlow was pedaling
to his girlfriend’s house when the group,
led by 21-year-old Robert Lockwood, ran
him down and cornered him in front of a
convenience store. Witnesses later said that
Lockwood—a bodybuilder with a criminal
record for smuggling steroids and the
attempted sexual assault of an 8-year-
old girl—threatened Barlow with a broken
Boone’s Farm wine bottle, saying, “What are
you gonna do, shoot me?” Barlow wound
up fatally shooting Lockwood in the chest. A
few months later, an all-white jury convicted
Barlow of the second-degree murder of
Lockwood, who happened to be the son of
Mesa’s former justice of the peace.
That’s when Evans—at the time, one
of the few African-American attorneys
working at any large Phoenix law
firm—heard about the case from a local
investigative news reporter.
“When they had picked him up,
nobody went back there to interview
the witnesses,” recalls Evans, who took
the case pro bono. He enlisted the help
of private investigator Paul Huebl, who
uncovered several witnesses as well as
some unlikely allies: a hundred or so white,
pro-gun conservatives who turned up
at the courthouse to support the young
black man’s right to defend himself. In the
end, Judge Ronald Reinstein reduced the
charges to manslaughter; Evans eventually
got Barlow’s sentence commuted. “Took
about a year and a half,” he says. “Today
he is a working, good, solid citizen; lives
in the West Valley; has worked for a pest
control company; owns a small business.
Just turned out great.”
Evans, 69, says it’s the cases like Barlow’s
that keep him practicing law. “The money
has never been the driving force for me,” he
says. “It’s the individual who calls, saying
they’re getting pushed around. Suddenly a
lawyer from Ballard Spahr shows up and he
says, ‘This is not fair, and we’re going to do
something about this.’ That’s the role I like to
play. That’s what I can deliver.”
Booker T. Washington Booker T. Evans Jr. Booker T. Jones
Established Tuskegee University, a
historically black university located in
Evans’ maternal grandmother went to
Tuskegee when it was a training school.
Attended Booker T. Washington High School
Believed that people should have two skills:
an academic skill and a trade skill.
Evans made psychology his academic skill
and law his work.
Played everything from keyboards to guitar
and even tuba.
Discouraged confrontation, advocating that
cooperation with supportive whites was the
best way to overcome systemic racism.
Evans’ courtroom style de-escalates
tensions, seeking common ground amidst
Founded one of the first racially integrated
soul groups, which, according to Rolling
Stone, was a symbol of integration in the
South in the civil rights era.
Despite his many accomplishments,
Washington wasn’t known for possessing any
Has been known to moonlight as a singer
with all-lawyer bands like The Stilettos at
Arizona Bar conventions.
Booker T. & the MG’s were inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Evans
says his favorite music by Jones is his guitar
work with Bob Dylan on the soundtrack to
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
HEAD to HEAD to HEAD
Booker T. Washington or Booker T. & the MG’s?
Evans’ father was named for Booker T. Washington.
“Going through life, probably until I was a teenager,” he says, “I didn’t know I had a middle
name—I always just thought it was ‘T.’ Everyone always called me Booker T.”
Evans shares the name with both a founder of the Tuskegee Institute and an architect of
the Memphis soul sound. But with which Booker T. does he have the most in common?