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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Why I Am Passionate In My Fight Against Violence

By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on December 29, 2022

An Editorial Opinion

In my lifetime, I have seen horrendous acts of violence that have revealed the inhumanity of mankind.

I have seen blacks savagely beaten for trying to use a public water fountains and restrooms that was reserved for “whites only” and for trying to eat at segregated lunch counters in a local department store.

State laws forced me to attend all-black schools in Memphis, Tennessee and Montgomery, Alabama. This situation lasted until I went to college at Southern Illinois University in 1966.

While I was a child in the 1950s, black men in the South were burned alive by white “Christians” for alleged crimes against white women.

In 1955, I saw the Jet magazine photos of 14-year-old Emmett Till’s battered, beaten and mutilated body during his open-casket funeral and listened in horror as my parents told us what happened to him. Till was lynched in Mississippi for alledgely flirting with a white woman.

IMAGE: 14-year-old Emmett Till was savagely murdered in Mississippi in 1955.

I watched the 1963 Birmingham church bombing on TV while I was a teenager in Montgomery. During this same period, I saw the city of Birmingham’s fire hoses and police dogs turned on school children who were protesting for an end to racial segregation in public accommodations and schools.

In the early 1960s, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, and Rosa Parks sat in my parents’ home as I listened to them describe the rivers of blood that flowed from the civil rights protesters’ courageous acts of civil disobedience across the South.

I watched the news in August 1964 when federal authorities discovered the bodies of three civil rights workers who were kidnapped by local sheriff’s deputies and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) while registering blacks to vote in Mississippi.

I watched real-time TV news accounts about the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers in Mississippi, the 1965 murders of civil rights workers Viola Liuzzo (from Michigan) and Jimmy Lee Jackson (from Selma) in Alabama, and the 1968 assassination of Dr. King in Memphis.

In 1963, I watched Governor George Wallace block the admission of Vivian Malone and James Hood to the University of Alabama. In 1965, I watched John Lewis and other civil rights marchers brave horrendous beatings by Alabama state troopers at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

In 1974, Clarence Norris told me about the beatings and torture he and the other eight Scottsboro Boys endured after their 1931 arrest on false rape charges and imprisonment in Alabama. When I retrieved the Scottsboro Boys’ case file from state archives, the old prison records verified Norris’ account of the prison system’s brutality.

As young children, our parents told us about the lynching of my maternal grandfather’s cousin in Mississippi and how my mother’s father barely escaped death in the same incident.

On March 21, 1981, the Ku Klux Klan kidnapped and lynched a 19-year-old African-American teenager named Michael Donald in downtown Mobile, Alabama. This was the last recorded lynching in America.

IMAGE: Michael McDonald was lynched by KKK members on March 21, 1981 in downtown Mobile, Alabama.

In 1966, I saw young white college students throw garbage on my brother Levi after he entered Vanderbilt’s medical school as its first black medical student. I also witnessed first-hand the isolation and hatred Levi endured during his four years as a trailblazer at Vanderbilt.

When I desegregated the University of Alabama’s law school in 1970, I began the longest and loneliest three-year chapter of my life. After I graduated from the law school and started practicing law in an all-white judiciary and in front of all-white juries, some white state court judges routinely referred to me for the first couple of years as the “nigger lawyer from Montgomery”. Several federal judges did not call me by any name or title; they simply barked out orders and rulings in a nasty and demeaning tone.

After I became a lawyer in 1973, I was continuously threatened with bodily harm and death because of my representation of poor, underprivileged, and disadvantaged citizens. I have lost count of the number of such threats.

During the course of my legal career, I have been hauled before grand juries and harassed by rogue prosecutors, prosecuted on trumped-up criminal charges, attacked by state and federal regulatory bodies with oversight responsibility for my private businesses, and peppered with personal attacks on my character by state and federal officials whose propensity for racial animosity exceeds all known means for objective measurement. I have also been maliciously smeared by modern-day COINTELPRO news reporters in Alabama who collaborate with local federal law enforcement agents.

These were not experiences I read about in scholarly journals or best-selling books; these were my real life experiences. Through it all, I have learned what it is like to be a victim of unimaginable acts of hatred, denigration, harassment, abuse of power and process, and violence by a tyrannical majority solely because of the color of my skin.

These experiences have not made me bitter, but they have heightened my awareness of just how evil some people can be. As a result, I am aggressive and passionate in the way I fight to safeguard the human and civil rights of others.

This is why I fought so hard to get wife-beating, marital-cheating, pill-popping former judge Mark Fuller off the federal bench in Montgomery in 2015 and 2016.

This is why I exposed a hypocrite like former Alabama governor Robert Bentley and his theft of taxpayer’s money and resources to carry out his torrid love affair with married political consultant Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

This is why I constantly rake former Montgomery U.S. Attorney George Beck and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange over the coals for being weak and impotent in the face of runaway public corruption committed by Bentley and other top Republican officials. Beck and former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange had the power to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution but they did not use it.

This is why I exposed the 2013 murder of an unarmed Cameron Massey by former Eufaula, Alabama Police Chief Ralph Connor and officer John Phillips while Massey sat in the passenger seat of a car driven by Joshua Keith Kelly, another unarmed black male.

This is why I worked so hard to solve the 2005 murder of Pfc LaVena Johnson in Iraq by General Kevin P. Byrnes and to expose a cover-up of her death that goes all the way to the top of the Pentagon’s chain of command. This is why Byrnes will be arrested one day for Private Johnson's murder.

This is why I blasted state Rep. Steve Hurst for introducing a bill in the 2016 session of the Alabama legislature requiring the surgical castration of sex offenders in Alabama prisons. State-mandated mutilation of the human body simply has no place in a post-Nazi era civilized society.

I have lived through barbaric times in Alabama, and I do not want to see us return to this dark period in our history. Alabama subjected its citizens to unimaginable acts of horror.

ISIS and the Nazis must picked up some of their brutality and torture techniques from Alabama public officials and the state’s die-hard “Christian” segregationists during the Jim Crow era. ISIS’s practice of burning people alive came straight out of Alabama’s long and ugly history of burning black men alive during the same period. ISIS’s acts of bombing and burning churches and other places of worship came straight out of 1960s era Birmingham.

The Nazis’ regiment of beating, torturing, hogtieing prisoners to posts, and murdering them came straight out of Alabama’s prison system in the 19th and 20th centuries. Nazi medical experiments on Jewish concentration camp internees were preceded by Alabama’s infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study experiments on black men from 1932 to 1972.

I have seen the devastating effects of hatred and violence practiced in the name of God, religion and “states rights."

Today, I am watching black-on black gun violence in Birmingham, Alabama and across the nation that is spreading like cancer. Mayor Randall Woodfin and local U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona are impotent in their ability to fight the surging gun violence in Birmingham. All that Woodfin can do is weep about skyrocketing number of homicides in his city and implement an ineffective Kumbaya approach to solving gun violence.

I am passionately speaking out against this surging violence because it has no place in a civilized and progressive society. Local public officials seem to be lost on this issue. As such, I am demanding full accountability from every public officials in Birmingham and across America who is in a position to curb gun violence, but is not doing so.


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