They grew up in a time when segregation
was the norm. You might see the charred
remains of a burnt cross on your lawn.
You might also see Thurgood Marshall in
the family living room.
School of Law, 1971;
Moore Law (retired
judge): My father was the
first black physician in our town, Amarillo,
Texas. He had been an Army physician,
but the hospitals would not let him
practice there. As a result, he built his
own hospital. Later, the white hospitals
let him practice.
One of my earliest memories is the
time our new house burned down. The
perpetrators were never named, but we
have clear evidence that it was the Klan.
My father took my mother away to have
her relax—after losing her dream house—
and she died while she was away. Later,
in about 1955, right after the Brown v.
Board of Education decision, my father
ran for the school board in Amarillo and
crosses were burned in our yard. My
younger brother and I saw the charred
grass where the cross was standing
and had fallen over. We had to have
bodyguards take us to school.
Ray Persons, The Ohio
State University Moritz
College of Law, 1978;
partner, King & Spalding:
I grew up in Hinesville,
Georgia. My father was in the Army,
stationed at Fort Stewart, and we lived
a half mile from the post. So I’d walk
over there, and all of their facilities were
integrated. That wasn’t true when you got
I didn’t realize we were in the minority
until I was probably 13 years old. That
was segregation. People I went to church
with looked like me. People I went to
school with looked like me. My family
looked like me. It was very protective in
that sense. My parents did a masterful
job of shielding my siblings and me from
the insulting aspects of segregation. I
didn’t really know any better.
Leah Ward Sears, Emory
University School of Law,
1980; partner, Smith,
Gambrell & Russell,
former chief justice of
Georgia Supreme Court: Much
of it was a struggle. I didn’t fit in; I never
really wanted to. I have my little quirks,
and they became less quirky as time has
caught up. Now it’s no longer quirky or
weird to want to be the chief justice. It
was quirky and weird when I was growing
up, though. When I was growing up, no
black was ever going to be president, and
certainly no woman. If you had aspirations
like that, you were crazy.
Charles S. Johnson III,
Boston College Law
School, 1973; partner,
Holland & Knight: My
father was a physician in
Dayton, Ohio. In every hospital he
worked at, he was always the first African-American member of the medical staff.
He broke barriers. That’s what people did.
His father was an educator—a sociologist,
and president of Fisk University, Charles
S. Johnson. My father was the second,
I’m the third. My grandfather’s specialty
was race. He started the Race Relations
Institute at Fisk. It was a hotbed of
excitement over the changes going on
in the country. It was nothing to see
Thurgood Marshall in my grandfather’s
Persons: We would drive home to south
Georgia once or twice a year, and we
would have to sleep in the car. There were
no accommodations, no places to stop
and eat. I remember my father always
wore his uniform, and I suspect that
was just to give him an added measure
of protection, to distinguish him from
other black travelers. I had a great-uncle,
Richard Henry, who spent 44 consecutive
months in combat in World War II. When
he came home, he couldn’t go to a
restaurant. He couldn’t go to the same
restaurants that the German POWs in the
United States could go to.
Johnson: After high school, I spent the
Then it was their turn to get involved.
summer in Europe and spent a week with
my uncle who lived in Monte Carlo. He
was 83 years old. He’d fought in World
War I, had a career in civil service. He was
living the life of an expatriate because
he found acceptance in Europe that
he couldn’t get in the U.S. I told him,
“There’s all this stuff going on at home”—
Selma had just happened—“you need
to come back and be part of it.” He said,
“Young man, I’ve paid my dues.”
Johnson: One summer I had an
internship with the Metropolitan Applied
Research Center, MARC, an institute
focused on urban problems founded
by Kenneth Clark, one of the leading
social scientists of the movement. I was
an intern, but there were fellows that
summer, people like Julian Bond, Roy
Innis, and John Lewis, who came into
my office one day and said, “SCLC is
having a convention in Atlanta. Would
you like to go?” What am I going to say to
that So my introduction to Atlanta was
accompanying John Lewis to a meeting of
leaders in the civil rights movement.
Persons: I remember the first time I ate in
an integrated restaurant off base. It was
on the way back from my grandmother’s
funeral in 1967. My father had just gotten
back from his first of many tours in
Vietnam and we stopped and had dinner
in a restaurant with white tablecloths.
Sears: I was actually the first black
cheerleader at Savannah High School.
The other girls put me through hell. Girls
are mean to girls. My hair didn’t shake.
And they’d say, “Everyone put your hair
in a ponytail.” My hair doesn’t go in a
ponytail. It doesn’t flop around.
Law School, 1982;
partner, Alston & Bird,
former undercover police
officer: Where I was raised, Detroit, we
experienced the raw impacts of racism.
Remember the difficulties of 1967?
Some folks called it a riot or a rebellion,
some called it a revolution. A lot of black
people were killed by police. That period,
the late ’60s and ’70s, there were a lot