The Barrister Fall 2017 - 12
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It's Been Fifty!
By Jay N. Abramowitch, Esquire
he Klan was denied a parade permit by the city. Fred
Edenharter offered free representation to the Klan, and
asked me, who had met him once, to be co-counsel. His
cross-examination of city officials was incisive, riveting; I did
mop-up. Afterward we libated at the Court Pub where we met
Cal Lieberman and Russ LaMarca. It was September 1968. I was
24. After a few beers, Fred said the Klan made his skin crawl. The
permit was issued; I was starting to get it!
My mind drifted to September 1964, day two at Dickinson
School of Law and the inevitable field trip to Carlisle's sites of
"public accommodation." A Rutgers alum, whom I played against
while at Lafayette, accompanied us. We greeted each other warmly,
happy to see a familiar face.
Our sojourn began at a dumpy diner on High Street.
Restrooms were marked "men," "women" and "colored." Stunned,
I turned to him; he showed no emotion. A bar a few blocks away
had a sign in the window: "white only." My friend had to drive
to Harrisburg to get his haircut. I went with him. The 1964 Civil
Rights Act was enacted two months later.
By graduation day in 1967, I came to know more about the
psyche of the Borough surrounding my prestigious law school.
No signs but no attitude change! The "colored" still knew where
they weren't welcome. Signs were replaced by stares! Nothing
had changed! Carlisle was a good old southern boy town. Carlisle
made my skin crawl!
I had wrongly assumed that the murder of four young black
girls in Birmingham four years earlier by the Klan would be a
catalyst for change. JFK and even LBJ backed the 1964 Act,
as a direct result of this horror. Racial violence increased, racial
prejudice deepened. It became obvious the "equal protection
clause" of the 14th Amendment implicitly didn't apply to "colored."
Years later, I visited the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham
and then walked from the church to the bridge in Selma. A
gloomy room in the Birmingham museum contains two lifesize black and white photographs; one was a close up of James
Meredith the moment he'd been shot on the road to Selma.
The look of surprise and shock on his face was unsettling,
unforgettable! Shot for walking on a country road! Nothing would
ever change in Alabama!
12 | Berks Barrister
The second was the iconic image of the marchers, led by
Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Ralph Abernathy,
approaching the bridge in Selma. State troopers, snarling German
Shepherds and an angry, armed mob blocked their way. The
look on Reverend King's face, steely, determined, unafraid; fully
expecting what the marchers were confronting!
These untitled photographs encapsulated the struggle for civil
rights in America. The fact that nothing would ever change did
not dissuade Dr. King.
It was over an hour until I felt emotionally able to leave the
museum. A visit to the church was only a walk away; I asked
myself what did the murders of JFK, MLK and RFK change?
Same answers as Carlisle; nothing!
A few weeks before my graduation from DLS in May 1967, it
became obvious that my "draft lottery" number would be reached.
I felt, ironically, that my best shot to avoid the ever-widening
war in Vietnam was to enlist! A crack infantry reserve unit was
based in Carlisle. I left for active duty at Fort Ord, California,
four days after the July 1967 bar exam. I was in the infantry, but I
thought I would be going home after several months of training!
I was certain training would not present a problem; after all, I
was a college athlete, in good shape and looking forward to the
Suffice to say, nineteen weeks later, I emerged from the depths
of hell, twenty pounds lighter and happy to be alive! Advanced
infantry training was the most grueling experience of my life. My
unit consisted of a gang of teenagers from the LA draft board,
Montana and North Dakota. I became a 24-year-old "father
figure" to many of them, who had no home life or anything else
for that matter. They all knew they were going to Nam; many
were happy to have three meals a day and clean clothing to wear
even if it was all green. We hadn't heard of HUP, Ke Sahn and
the Tet offense. We didn't know of the profound failure of higher
command, particularly "Westy," to anticipate North Vietnamese
We had become soldiers! Graduation from advanced infantry
training was the proudest of my four commencements. I thought I
was going home to start my career; turns out the Army had other
The Barrister Fall 2017
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