SANDERS: Honored to be inducted into Hall of Fame

Published 9:03 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Oh how times flies. This thought leapt to the forefront of my mind over and over again. It started when I had to go back, way back – to the beginning of my law career. But it was not about a case. It was about times past.

I was one of four attorneys selected for the Alabama Lawyers Hall of Fame in 2017. The others were Orzell Billingsley Jr. of Birmingham, Lewis Gillis of Montgomery and Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative. I knew Billingsley, who is now deceased. He incorporated small towns before I did the same and did great civil rights legal work. I know Gillis. He successfully represented my fellow senator, Quinton Ross. I know Stevenson. I did not know that he has 29 honorary doctoral degrees. I have worked with him on death penalty legislation over the years. They all deserve the awards. However, I did not feel deserving. I was, in fact, uneasy.

The Hall of Fame Induction was in Montgomery at the RSA Activity Center. It was filled with well wishers. It was good to see many who I had not seen for years. The whole thing took me back, way back.

When I spoke briefly after the award was presented to me, I was taken back, way back. I recalled that Faya Rose and I returned from one year in West Africa in 1971.

We went to Huntsville to work at the Madison County Legal Aid Society on a Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship. We wanted to immediately join the organization of Black Lawyers. We had both been involved in the Harvard Black Law Students Association, where I served as president. We both were involved in the Black Law Students Association, a national group of black law students.

However, there was no such association of black lawyers in Alabama. There had been a Charles H. Houston Law Society, but it had been extinct for years.

It was really presumptuous of us. We were new in Alabama law circles, and Faya had not yet taken the bar. Faya Rose and I agreed to take the bar exam at different times because we believed the bar would not admit both of us at the same time. However, we sent a letter to all the black lawyers in Alabama asking them to meet in Birmingham to organize. An excellent representation came. We collectively decided not to organize that day but to call a second meeting in a month or so. Notice of this meeting was extensive.

When we returned to Birmingham, we formerly organized as the Alabama Black Lawyers Association. The energy in the Black Lawyers Association was strong. We organized our own CLE (Continue Legal Education). We worked to help black law graduates pass the bar. We sued the Alabama Bar for discrimination. We helped change the three-time rule so that bar applicants could take it additional times. We built connections with law students.

We are proud to see young lawyers carrying on with such determination and effectiveness.

It is good that they honor some of those on whose shoulders they stand on so they can see further and reach higher. The Hall of Fame Induction is such an honor.