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About the Author
Martin Sheen is a distinguished actor, an activist, and the recipient of many awards, including the Laetare Medal, the most prestigious honor for an American Catholic.
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Defending our Rights in the Courts, the Capitol, and the Streets
By Mark Lane
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2012 Mark Lane
All rights reserved.
I was born in the Bronx and grew up in Brooklyn. My father, Harry A. Lane of Buffalo, New York, studied to be a chemist, but the ingestion of some fumes in a laboratory damaged his lungs. Instead he became a certified public accountant. My mother, Elizabeth Lane, one of nine sisters raised in Rochester, New York, had been an administrative assistant to Gus Edwards, a vaudeville impresario. We — that is, my brother, Lawrence, known in the early years to all as Lory, and my sister, Ann Judith, called Sissy — suffered no shortage of uncles, aunts, and cousins. The appellation Sissy has not survived, although Ann has, to become a historian, an author, and a professor at the University of Virginia. The name Lory has almost disappeared; all of his friends and even his wife addressed him as Larry, yet the name lives on when Ann and I speak of him.
Lory had a long career as a New York City high school teacher and a leader of the teacher's union, and, in his retirement, he continued to both teach and travel, as did his wife, Patricia. Lory died just a few days before I wrote these words. During the early years I probably knew him better than did anyone else. Certainly I spent more time with him. We shared a twin-bedded room, and in almost every picture taken at the time, there he is, with his arm around my shoulder. He was my protector and buddy as we grew up. Later in life he became my role model. I never knew him to make an unkind remark about anyone. While he opposed the policies of the second Bush administration, he would make no personal statement against their author.
When the principal of the school where he taught began to circulate Polish jokes, one of the horrors of the 1950s, Lory, unable to dissuade him through logic, initiated and circulated at school a number of principal jokes. How many high school principals does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
Lory possessed a well-developed sense of humor and, being a mathematician, a most precise approach to specifics. I last saw him in a hospital bed too weak to speak. I held his hand, and he whispered, "I love you," as he did a moment later to Ann. Pat, his wife, patted his sweating forehead and said, "You look better, Larry." He tried several times to say something, but he lacked the energy. Finally, he looked at all of us and then smiled and turned to Pat and said, "Better than whom?" Those were his last words.
He was truly a teacher and a wise, kind, and generous man. I might have followed the path he took, but I became a trial lawyer.
Dad was known as "the honest accountant." Many years later my father told me that when the US government sought to convict Al Capone, it had secretly flown two accountants to Chicago to review his books. The agents said they required the services of certified public accountants who were without reproach or blemish. Apparently two came to mind. My father was one of them. Capone was convicted of income tax evasion.
My siblings and I walked to school, first Public School 193 and later James Madison High School, from our modest home, all located in the Flatbush neighborhood of the borough of Brooklyn. Our lives seemed unremarkable. We were active in various sports, almost all played in the street where there was little traffic, including hockey on roller skates, touch football, and stickball, a baseball game played with a rubber ball and a broomstick. I joined with Lory and his friends in most sports encounters; they were a couple of years older and more skilled. I tried to make up for that gap with perseverance.
The declaration of war in 1941, when we were still quite young — my sister was nine, I was fourteen, and my brother sixteen — brought an end to the innocence of our childhood. Until then there was schoolwork, sports, and, above all, the Brooklyn Dodgers. My parents were not political activists; they supported President Roosevelt — Eleanor Roosevelt was my mother's only candidate for first lady of the world — they spoke at home of their sympathy for the Loyalists in faraway Spain and their opposition to the fascist Franco regime, and they treated the very few Negroes — that was then the proper word — with whom we came into contact fairly. The subject of race relations did not come up often. However, I remember my mother telling my dad how disappointed she was in one of her friends who had just hired a black maid for some part-time work. The neighbor had not set the hourly rate in advance, later saying to my mother that she had done that on purpose. I was just a child, but an inquisitive one. What was wrong with that? I asked. My mother explained that the maid, a woman without power, I think my mother said "influence," would be forced to accept whatever she was offered once the job was done.
The episodes of daily life then had little resemblance to the world of today. We were not attached to the ubiquitous television sets, smart phones, and tablets of the present. We did sit around the kitchen table Sunday evenings to listen to the radio: Jack Benny and Fred Allen. Fibber McGee and Molly never quite made it in our house. Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons, and the drama set in Grand Central Station, "the crossroads of the world," and the Shadow were also favorites.
Mother — later in life we called her Betty — played the baby grand piano in our parlor and led us in singing songs of the not-so-recent past. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was her favorite. She was also partial to "School Days." She told us that had been a favorite song when she worked for Gus Edwards, and he had been associated with the song.
We never considered the lack of crime or visible criminals to be a blessing. We accepted that as part of the normal environment just as we expected good drinking water to come from the faucet. I cannot recall ever hearing of a criminal act in our neighborhood; of course, no one bought bottled water. Our trusty 1936 Plymouth, purchased when the government paid a bonus to veterans of World War I, was parked, unlocked, windows open unless rain was expected, in the driveway alongside our semidetached rented home. We did not lock our doors at night. During the summer the windows, including those on the ground floor, were open with just removable screens in place so that nature might provide in the summer months the only air-conditioning then available.
The Elm Theater was air cooled, as the icicle-shaped banners flowing from the marquee proclaimed. We spent hours there every Saturday afternoon. It was cool, and we were able to see two feature films, an episode of a continuing action serial often set in the West, sometimes The Lone Ranger, newsreels, and animated cartoons. The newsreels were important; they made it possible for Americans to see their leaders and others both speak and move. We had heard them on the radio and could see their still photographs in the newspapers, but only in the theater could we really observe them.
To assuage the pain of our beloved Brooklyn Dodgers losing yet again, a southern gentleman came to town. Red Barber, who surely set the mark by which any sports broadcaster may be measured even now, half a century later, brought with him a knowledge of the game, a pleasant drawl, and folksy expressions with which we had not been previously acquainted and which we assumed, perhaps incorrectly, were staples that were in common usage in the southern regions. Soon on Bedford Avenue, Kings Highway, Flatbush Avenue, and in the mom-and-pop-run soda fountains, and likely the bars as well, arguments were being described as rhubarbs and confrontations were defined as tearing up the pea patch, all, of course, in the distinctive patois described elsewhere as Brooklynese. Red Barber became our sage; his descriptions elevated baseball's sweaty endeavors to the level of poetry.
More than forty years later I met Red Barber for the first time. By then the treasonous owners of the club had moved the team to Los Angeles, demonstrating that baseball was less a sport than a business and that team spirit and community support ranked far below greed on their charts. I had been invited to appear as a guest on a national television program originating in Florida. I checked into the hotel and was awaiting a ride to the station when a black stretch limousine pulled up. As I entered it I saw Red Barber seated in the back. He, too, was to appear on the program in support of a book his wife, who was then ill, had written. I was speechless for a moment, for here was the maximum hero of my youth. I was about to tell him that when he offered his hand to me, and in that delightful soft-spoken manner, so familiar to me, he said, "Mark Lane, you have been a heroic figure for me for many years. I am so very pleased to meet you." We became fast friends at once.
Later that evening I told Red ("Please call me that, everyone does") that Lory and I had attended a World Series game as kids. It was perhaps one of the best-known ones. We had camped out overnight on the street outside of Ebbets Field along with hundreds of others so that we might buy bleacher tickets. The regular season rate, fifty-five cents per ticket, had been doubled, but we were determined to splurge. I described the final and most memorable moment. With the Dodgers leading, the final Yankee batter had been struck out, but the catcher, Mickey Owen, "had dropped the ball," I said.
Red stiffened. "It was a fast breaking sharp curve off of his mitt. He did not 'drop' it, Mark. Frankly, I'm quite surprised that you, such a meticulous researcher and writer, would say that Owen 'dropped' the ball."
Of course, Red was correct. I apologized profusely, endlessly, abjectly. I am pleased to be able to report that our friendship was not permanently damaged and that it survived my almost unforgivable imprecision.
* * *
During 1945, as the war was raging in Europe and the Far East, I entered the US Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey. I was eighteen years old. My father had been inducted into the army at Fort Dix almost three decades earlier during World War I, which at the time was called merely the Great War. The older and wiser leaders confidently predicted, as the younger bodies fell about them, that this war was going to end all wars. Soon, out of a paucity of imagination, we began to name them by number and then, euphemistically, deny they were wars at all. They became conflicts or police actions, and we suffered only "light casualties." In my now more considerable experience in such matters, I have never met a single maimed soldier who considered himself to be "a light casualty" or even the family of a deceased one who employed such an evaluation. I have concluded that peace, not war, tends to end war.
As I endured basic training in Camp Blanding, Florida, during the steaming, blinding summer months, the heat waves were visibly omnipresent as they rose from the shining blacktopped roads on our long forced marches, made even less bearable by the effect of sleep deprivation, all part of the program. Blanding, which since 1943 served as a training center for those to be sent to fight in the Pacific or in Europe, was located near Starke, a small town we never visited, and Jacksonville, a major city where we would occasionally spend a rare Saturday or Sunday. Starke, however, invited my attention again almost a quarter of a century later, since it was an official killing ground where the state of Florida executed guilty and innocent prisoners. Serial killer Ted Bundy fell into the former category, and James Joseph Richardson was in the latter category and scheduled for execution when I met him in prison. His remarkable story, for reasons of chronological discipline to which I have not always succumbed, appears later in this work.
In the army I also experienced the serious side of anti-Semitism for the first time. Years before in Brooklyn, some of the older boys had taunted me with a ditty clearly intended to be derogatory. I had heard the words just two or three times decades ago, but I remember them still.
Matzos, matzos, two, four, five
That's what keeps the Jews alive
Matzos and gefilte fish
That surely is their favorite dish
At the time I was puzzled. As a child I never did much like either matzos or gefilte fish. And the arithmetic progression was perplexing, from two to four and to five, but I concluded that rhymes have their own universe of logic. Above all, of course, I was frightened and offended by the jeering tone that was directed at me and indicated I was both different and inferior because I was different. The impact of those words upon me might be determined, at least in part, by the fact that they have remained with me through my life.
But in the army anti-Semitism was not offered with a musical accompaniment. My companions were a mixture drawn from all around the country, with an inordinate number from the southern states. The remarks, not directed at me, since I was not suspected of being one of them, were mean-spirited, stereotypically based, and grounded in ignorance. When asked about my nationality, I always said American and added that my parents were born in New York State. My answers were true, but I felt they were designed to deceive and were motivated by unworthy cowardice.
When I was stationed in Austria, I was a private first class, almost as low as one can rate in the martial hierarchy. A master-sergeant, near the top of the noncommissioned officers rank, told me that he was not going to spend his leave in Paris since "there are so many fucking Jews there." I was silent. I have been to beautiful, wonderful, incredible Paris many times since then. The sergeant's bigotry cost him dearly.
While on the firing line at night to operate the Browning automatic rifle, I noticed that my assigned buddy for the exercise — who had previously observed how dumb "niggers and kikes" were — was enamored of the power of the weapon and the excitement of actually watching the path of the bullets. Each sixth round was a tracer that glowed brightly as it raced through the dark and heavy southern night. He told me that he was going to volunteer to carry the BAR in combat. When I asked what about the tracers fascinated him, he said that you could see where the bullets struck. I pointed out that the very nature of that phenomenon posed certain risks. He seemed bemused. I said that an enemy sniper could just as clearly see exactly where the bullets were coming from. He said "Fuck!" several times, decided to withdraw his request, and offered to buy me a beer. After a number of 3.2 PX beers, he concluded that I had just saved his life. He asked what he could do for me.
I said, "Don't call Negroes niggers and Jews kikes."
He said, "OK — why?"
I told him that I found the former offensive and that I was one of the latter.
In addition to anti-Semitism, I encountered the sting of official racism. In those days I had very short hair in compliance with army regulations. I spent a great deal of time under the summer sun at the urging of the basic training instructors, who would have it no other way. I always tanned well, and soon I was a dark, six-foot, short-haired guy in a uniform visiting Jacksonville on a two-day pass. Taxis refused to stop when I hailed them — a situation that persists to this day for men and women of color — and in mental repartee suffused in denial, I told myself that on my salary as a private I could hardly afford that ride anyway. But then I boarded a bus and was ordered to sit in the back. I despised segregation, and I could not condone it by stating that I was white, implying that, unlike my fellow citizens, I was entitled to a front seat view. Neither was I a heroic Rosa Parks. I took a seat in the back of the bus. The black passengers looked at me; some smiled, some nodded, and others seemed perplexed. All knew what the bus driver did not recognize.
Basic training was a never-ending challenge, primarily physically, but not without its share of psychological aspects as well. As a child I had spent part of one summer in camp. I did not enjoy the experience, and I was eager to return home. The first weeks at Camp Blanding made Camp Wel-Met in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State seem to be, for the first time, a pleasant children's camp, which, of course, was what it was. We were always exhausted during training. We engaged in calisthenics. Marched to the firing line regularly to fire a variety of weapons. Marched back. Marched to the firing line to serve in the trenches just below the targets so that we could report the score as others fired. Crawled through obstacles with live machine gun fire just overhead, or so we were told and believed. Climbed over walls by pulling ourselves up by the use of ropes. And marched and marched and marched. Many of the GIs collapsed from heat exhaustion or heat stroke in temperatures above 100 degrees in the shade, but we were always in the sun. We learned how to disassemble and then assemble the M-1 rifle, an accurate and remarkably sturdy weapon that never jammed if adequately cared for, and then how to do it with our eyes closed. We also learned to obey orders with our eyes closed and never to question the decision of an authority even when the decision was flawed.
Excerpted from Citizen Lane by Mark Lane. Copyright © 2012 Mark Lane. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Martin Sheen ix
Introduction: My Life xi
Prologue: Our Time 3
1 Brooklyn Days 9
2 Working with the National Lawyers Guild 29
3 Storefront Lawyer 37
4 Wassaic 55
5 Mid-Harlem Community Parish 73
6 East Harlem Politics 89
7 The Campaign in East Harlem 99
8 The Assembly Line 127
9 Freedom Ride 135
10 Rush to Judgment: The Journey Begins 149
11 Chicago, August 1968 177
12 James Joseph Richardson 187
13 The Winter Soldier Investigation 213
14 Mountain Home 229
15 Wounded Knee 251
16 O Canada 277
17 Memphis, America 285
18 Jonestown 299
19 My Day with Bill Buckley: The Trial of the National Review and Buckley v. Carto 315
20 A Supreme Case and Others in the District 331
21 Radio Days 343
Epilogue: My Life Goes On 349
What People are Saying About This
“Citizen Lane is at once lighthearted, joyous and suspenseful. Not just a great read, Lane’s unique journey is an essential example in a jaded world of how one man can affect great change. . . . Mark Lane’s life, which he has written over the years with deeds, not words, has been an inspiration to me and the reason that I am an activist for the powerless. For all the struggles and suffering, defeats and victories, Citizen Lane is the magnificent American story of hope. If you read one book this year, even this decade, this is the one.” —Martin Sheen, from the foreword
"Although my views about Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of President Kennedy are well known, I am convinced, and have been for a long time, that had Mark Lane, with his skill and knowledge of the case, represented him at trial, Oswald would have been acquitted." —Gerald Posner, author of Case Closed
"Citizen Lane is a major contribution to the cause of equal justice in America. Lane has risked his life for us on more than one occasion, and even more than that, he has applied his incredible skill to cases and struggles all throughout our country. His work is unparalleled because his life has been." —Dick Gregory
"Mark Lane’s inspirational life is told here in riveting, page-turning fashion. Lawyer, prolific author, state legislator, civil rights activist, peace advocate, and lifelong crusader for the kind of justice the courts and the constitution should but often fail to provide, Lane draws together in this autobiography his many previous books as well as his long duels with the CIA and lesser centers of power." —Paul Gaston, professor emeritus of American history, University of Virginia
"Mark Lane has dedicated his life to furthering constitutional principles and admirable ethical standards. With integrity, courage, and righteousness as his shield and passionate rational persuasion as his sword, Mark Lane has confronted evil and demanded justice. Undaunted, he shares with our Founders a commitment to keep our institutions and the marketplace of ideas vibrant, open, democratic, and transparent. Read his fascinating memoir, Citizen Lane. It is terrific: well documented, dramatic, and brilliantly crafted." —Robert K. Tanenbaum, director of the Congressional Committee investigating the assassination of President Kennedy
"I regret the attempts to destroy Mr. Lane." —David Atlee Phillips, Director of the CIA for the Western Hemisphere
“Readers may not recognize the author’s name, but he has been fighting for the rights of underdogs for nearly 60 years … As one would expect of a person of this caliber, Lane’s story focuses on the needs of those he served rather than the extraordinary part he played in so many lives.”—Kirkus Reviews