Friday, June 3, 2011

NAACP and Their Pro Bono Lawyers

  From the NAACP's beginning (1910) and to around 1925, in these formative years, and with the organization basically destitute year in and year out, the NAACP was forced to rely on white male attorneys who were willing to work  pro bono (without compensation). There were three lawyers who were willing to do the bulk of this kind work for the advancement of the NAACP ::

-- Albert Enoch Pillsbury (born 1849 - died 1930)

-- Moorfield Storey (born 1849 - died 1930)

-- Arthur Spingarn (born 1878 - died 1971)

Note: black lawyers at that time could not afford to do pro bono work.  

   However, there are two things regarding the NAACP in these formative years which I find more than a little troubling (and I hope you do as well)  :: 1) the legal strategy they used; 2) the apparent hypocrisy of the white pro pono lawyers.

1.   Legal Strategy::  Much emphasis is generally given in today's literature to the legal strategy the NAACP' employed in pursuing its lauded integration agenda. However, there is another aspect to this strategy which has been given little importance or recognition (if any) and I think it bears pointing out: the NAACP's  activities were not in any way consistent with existing rules for lawyers in 1910 --  or all the way up to 1964 for that matter.  Also never noted is the unprecedented special treatment NAACP lawyers consistently received at the hands of the New York State Bar. That is, what ethical boundaries other lawyers were either forced by their state bar to accept, or morally bound to respect, the NAACP lawyers were always allowed to freely engage in violating. Lawyers (in 1910) were suppose to represent for a fee individuals, companies or, from time to time, a group of any other sort seeking redress over a legal issue or point of law.  Lawyers were not suppose to stir up lawsuits, advertise their services in any media or call upon prospective clients and offer their services pro bono . However, for the NAACP lawyers, when they palpably stirred up lawsuits, or called upon prospective clients and offered their services pro bono (cases were generally selected based on whether it could create publicity for the organization), they always got a pass. Perhaps because of the clients the NAACP were pursuing, ones that could never afford to pay a fee for lawyer services, the New York Bar allowed these guys to get away with all their ethics violations. However, the following point still needs to be driven home here: For lawyers to work for an organization, and where the primary purpose of that organization is to stir up lawsuits, claiming their efforts are for the "public good", was, prior to 1910, unprecedented in America, as well as in every other Western Civilization country. 1

2.  
 Hypocrisy::  I have also found it very troubling that the white pro bono lawyers for the NAACP (as well as all the other members of the NAACP who were white), who worked for or on behalf of this organization - which promoted racial integration - were unwilling themselves to practice what they were promoting.  In other words, none of the white attorneys for the NAACP were willing to live among the Negro people (Arthur Spingard was a man of considerable wealth who chose to live in an exclusively white community on a palatial estate in upstate New York); nor were they willing to send their children to a predominately Negro school; nor were they ever willing to try to make a living exclusively among the Negro population. Yet they were essentially telling America’s White population that integration and race-nullification was the right direction their people should be heading; and not only was it the right direction, but the moral one as well. The way I understand hypocrisy, this does appear to fit the definition. If integration of the races, still an unknown concept in human history at this time (1910 to 1925), was, as the NAACP was claiming, actually the right thing to commit to, it does seem that the ones promoting this "radical" new agenda should be the ones at very least practicing it themselves. 

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NOTE: In the 100 years existence of the NAACP, there has yet to be a documented case of a white male / female member of this organization that moved from their predominantly White community into a predominantly black community. 2
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1. http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/lhr/20.1/carle.html

2. I could not find a single documented case. If someone knows of a case(s), please include it below in the comment section (with a source).

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