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Jim Crow and Me: Stories from My Life as a Civil Rights Lawyer

By: Solomon S. Seay Jr. Foreword by John Hope Franklin
Reviewed by: H.F. Lippincott
NewSouth Books, 2008
$25, Hardcover

Rather than a conventional memoir, Solomon S. Seay Jr., the distinguished Montgomery civil rights attorney (b. 1931), gives us “disjointed episodes” about his memorable trials and incidents between 1957 and 1977, key years for the civil rights struggle. The tone is lively, to appeal to a broad audience—stories that “have some meaning, yet while being entertaining.” For this reason it’s a good book for schools and should keep the attention of young people.

The stories provide insight into many familiar happenings: the closing of the Montgomery city parks, public accommodation and the peaceful integration of the Elite Restaurant, skirmishes with the KKK, the voting rights protest, school integration—all big ticket items when Seay and his law firm were often at the forefront. Other lawyers urged the inclusion of the “Todd Road story” and the “trials in Montgomery before Sullivan v. New York Times reached the Supreme Court.” For whatever reason these stories are not told, although they would have fleshed out what is a somewhat slim book.

Seay’s collaborator is Delores R. Boyd, also a Montgomery attorney and federal magistrate. Growing up, Seay’s father, a minister, and his physician sister “mentored” her, but after law school she was disappointed not to be offered a place in the Seay law firm. She says she “enlivened [Seay’s] recollections with a storyteller’s active voice and dialogue not intended to reflect verbatim accuracy.”

Interspersed with more serious matters are vignettes of Seay’s late wife of fifty years, Ettra, and of their children. The book, designed by NewSouth’s Randall Williams, has a most attractive look and is well edited. It has an index and helpful back notes, but not a selected bibliography, which would have enhanced its value as an informal introduction to the era. Feb 2009

H.F. Lippincott, a thirty-year resident of Montgomery, is a retired college teacher of English.

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