Chestnut did more for the community than most know

Published 5:52 pm Thursday, February 5, 2009

I have on more than one occasion thought about writing in response to the controversy surrounding renaming Jeff Davis Avenue to honor Attorney J. L. Chestnut, Jr. Each time, I would get distracted by one thing or the other and never got around to it. However, after reading the article by Mr. Cooper, I felt compelled to respond. In the article, Mr. Cooper states, “Chestnut did not do anything for anyone other than a service you had to pay for.” It was at this point that I knew I had to respond because anyone who really knew Attorney Chestnut knows that he literally gave away a fortune in legal fees helping people who could not afford to pay for his services.

Further, I cannot think of many men anywhere that I have respected anymore than J.L. Chestnut, Jr. In fact, even though I considered him a friend I never referred to him as “J.L. or Chess” and most often intentionally called him Attorney Chestnut. This was because of the deep respect I carried for him as a lawyer who had sacrificed so much for the good of people. And, it was not just African Americans who benefited from the legal skills of Attorney Chestnut. I think most people can remember that, Chess represented Mrs. Ramsey in the city’s missing money ordeal.

I also recall that it was Attorney Chestnut and the Honorable Henry Pitts who represented the State Trooper in the murder of his Colleague. These were white people who I suspect did not have the means or resources to pay full price of their legal services. These are just two cases to come to mind. I am sure there are many more.

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Additionally, I can say with first-hand knowledge, that Attorney Chestnut represented a countless number of people especially African Americans with their legal issues and never charged them one red cent for his services. And, if any fee was charged it was more than likely at a much-reduced price than the going rate. Like many others I recall back years ago, when Dr. W.J. Yelder and Rev. Reese were displaced having been the principal and assistant principal at Hudson High. They were demoted and reassigned to Eastside Jr. High during the school mandatory integration of public schools. As I recall it was Attorney Chestnut, who represented Dr. Yelder; which resulted in he and Rev Reese later becoming the first African American principals at Selma High School.

Moreover, Attorney Chestnut did a number of things for me personally and never charged a fee. For example, I recall during the school protest of the 90’s the establishment had plans for me that did not include being a free man much less practicing law. However, Attorney Chestnut was writing a weekly Column for STJ at the time and took every opportunity to put in a tidbit of information to sway public opinion in my behalf. Also, after this ordeal had lasted for what seem to have been an eternity, I received a call from Attorney Chestnut early one morning and he said, in effect, “that everything may appear to be hopeless right now, but just remember, there is darkness before dawn.” This was very uplifting and his way of telling me everything would be alright.

I could elaborate further about Attorney Chestnut having worked with his firm for about six years. But, I will simply say that he was a consummate teacher, a great lawyer with a genuine love for people. In my opinion, he was probably one of the most non materialistic, and unassuming individuals you will ever meet, especially when considering with his legal skills and gift oratorically, he was in a class of a privileged few. And, even though Attorney Chestnut could be tough as nails when he needed to be, I always could see that softer humanitarian side of him that allowed him to give much of his time and skills that had nothing to do with money. So, it is for this reason that I disagree with Mr. Cooper. I very much support Jeff Davis being renamed in honor Attorney Chestnut, my late friend.


Selma, Alabama