TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Washington Butler on Jul 21, 2010

Journal Issue Date: Aug 2010

Journal Name: August 2010 - Vol. 46, No. 8

In my opinion, The Education of a Black Radical: A Southern Civil Rights Activist's Journey, could quite appropriately have been named: The Education of a Supreme Court Judge: From Civil Rights Activist to Judicial Activist. Of course his judicial career has not yet elevated him to the level of a Supreme Court justice but the facts are that Judge Bailey has the knowledge and skills, as well as the academic and life preparation, to qualify him for service on bench of a higher court.

As presented, Judge Bailey's book is a well-written, informative and historically accurate review of one participant's activities during the civil rights struggle of the late 1950s and early 1960s. It is a cross-generational historical piece that communicates to youths and seniors. For persons who lived through that era it is refreshing. For others who want to learn of that period it is informative. I commend it to all who are curious to know more about the man.

From reading this book it is easy to see that Judge Bailey is a strong-minded, clear-thinking, well-read, courageous black man. Unfortunately many non-blacks see this type of personality in a black man as a threat to their well-being. I deem this unfortunate in that I believe this type of personality more appropriately should be seen as one who recognizes truth and/or evil for what they are and refuses to be silent when their opinions should be expressed. Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said: To sit in silence when we should protest, makes cowards of men. Judge D'Army Bailey shows he has never been one to sit in silence when injustice is observed. From his book we can see that the fertile creative mind of a man like Bailey resists being silenced even in the face of external pressures.

As part of the experiment in democratic government presented by the United States of America, some persons are destined for activism and leadership. For others, leadership may be foisted upon them. In either case their contributions may be widely appreciated and welcomed or held in disdain and rejected. At bottom, the outcome all depends on who is judging the results and from what perspective. In the minds of different persons, after reading The Education of a Black Radical: A Southern Civil Rights Activist's Journey, it is easy to see that at different times, D'Army Bailey has been both honored, appreciated and accepted and also held in disdain and rejected. As readers walk through this historical piece they must draw their own conclusion on this point.

The author's candid, forthright disclosure of events, facts and feelings is enlightening and most enjoyable. One's perspective in reading a book like this is significant. Considering that the book covers a period of history with which I am quite familiar and talks about people, places and events with which I am personally acquainted, I enjoyed the nostalgia that lurked in my mind as I absorbed the author's insights and observations of my home state of Louisiana.

As I followed the challenges, obstacles and successes of D'Army Bailey, moving from the South to the North, from Memphis to Massachusetts, I envisioned him as a unique role model for young black men with keen intellect and a strong desire to help make the world a better place for all. Young men, both black and white, who are on a journey to prepare themselves to make a significant mark in American history by their social and cultural contributions, will benefit from reading about Judge Bailey's life during the '50s and '60s. He shows that living life is not always easy and presents many obstacles, but with resolve and determination it is possible to help promote improvements in cultural and human relations. If I were still teaching American history I would include Judge Bailey's book on my required reading list for all classes dealing with the '50s and '60s.

Although I do not know Judge Bailey personally, I feel as though he is someone I know simply because I too was involved in the civil rights struggle of that time period. I started my journey in a different place and setting, perhaps giving me a different perspective. In 1959, I was an elected official in Oak Ridge and possibly the only publicly elected official south of the Mason-Dixon Line who was actively involved in sit-ins, protest demonstrations and the like. I spent many days and weekends at Highlander Folk School in Monteagle and met a large number of students who were active in the civil rights struggle.

I first heard of D'Army Bailey when the civil rights unrest at Southern University in Baton Rouge was at its height. The spelling of his first name stuck in my mind because of its uniqueness. While serving on the Oak Ridge, City Council, I was active in the NAACP, CORE, the local Community Relations Council and other statewide, regional and national organizations dedicated to improving access to public accommodations for blacks and other disenfranchised persons. During this period I was a graduate student at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and participated in activities sponsored by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). As a civil rights activist in my own right, I kept informed about the activities and leaders in other parts of the country.

Years later after moving to Memphis, I was elected to the Shelby County Quarterly Court and served with Judge Bailey's older brother, Walter. At the time, whenever Judge D'Army Bailey's name appeared in the news, I paid close attention, as did many other residents of the area. Given my personal background and history, it's a pleasure to say that I enjoyed reading about Judge Bailey's personal journey and learned many details I could not have known otherwise.

Washington Butler Jr WASHINGTON BUTLER JR. has been a facilitator in American History at the Nashville Campus of the University of Phoenix; has taught political science at Vol State Community College, Memphis State University and LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis; and has taught English in the People’s Republic of China. Butler earned a master of organizational management from Trevecca Nazarene University and a master of arts in political science from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville; and a bachelors degree in chemistry from Clark College, Atlanta.