C. B. King (1923-1988)
C. B. King was a prominent African American lawyer known for his courage, courtroom eloquence, and legal skills in the face of fierce and even violent opposition during the civil rights struggle in southwest Georgia. The first black lawyer in the area, King was an inspiration to an entire generation of young law interns and civil rights activists.
The third of seven sons, Chevene Bowers King was born in Albany in 1923 to Margaret Slater and Clennon W. "Daddy" King,
Like his siblings, C. B. King was educated in Albany's segregated school system. Following a brief period at Tuskegee and employment at a naval war plant in the Northwest, he served a tour of duty in the U.S. Navy. King then attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, graduating in 1949. Denied access to Georgia's whites-only law schools, King enrolled at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1951, the year before he received his law degree, King wed Carol Roumain; they eventually had five children.
Back in Georgia, where he opened his
He stood his ground in the face of resentful opposition inside and outside the courtroom so firmly that he was once asked if he had a chip on his shoulder. "I beg your pardon," he said, "I have the law on my shoulder." Another time, King was addressed in court as "C. B." instead of "Mr. King," the conventional manner of address accorded to white men. He countered the incivility by referring to Police Chief Pritchett by his first name, Laurie.
In the earlier days of his practice reversals by a higher court were common occurrences for King, whose clients were often unjustly tried and sentenced before all-white juries. Success sometimes eluded him, as it did when he was unable to reverse the conviction of his brother Preston, who was sentenced in 1961 for draft evasion. A large part of King's legal success can be attributed to his masterful use of language, which often dismayed courtroom adversaries. Sometimes his superior use of words provoked anger in opposing lawyers who were not sure of what he was saying. The civil rights activist and Georgia congressman John Lewis, defended by King when he was jailed in Americus during the 1960s, quipped that King used words that only King understood. King's virtually photographic memory of the law put his opponents at a disadvantage. To the consternation of the judge and court, he would cite an appropriate law in minute detail, sending the clerks scurrying to the books to check on the accuracy of his statement. He was unfailingly correct.
The Civil Rights Era
The 1960s brought a new set of complexities
King made two attempts to secure political office. His race to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964, though unsuccessful, was a landmark effort, for he was the first black in Georgia to run for Congress since the Reconstruction era.
Nominated five years later, in 1969, by the state's black leadership, he became Georgia's first African American candidate for governor. He was supported by Andrew Young, Hosea Williams, and Julian Bond. Harry Belafonte gave a benefit performance for the campaign. Although he did not win the governorship, his candidacy inspired large numbers of black people to register, and their voting power ensured the election of several black candidates for local and regional offices.
As a mentor for legal interns, King has had a far-reaching influence on the nation's legal system. Law students came to his Albany firm from Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Howard, and Princeton universities, and from the University of Massachusetts and the University of California at Berkeley. A startling number of these young protégés underwent life-changing experiences under his tutelage, and a considerable number went on to become highly distinguished judges, members of Congress, and respected civil and environmental rights advocates. One 1963 Harvard intern, Elizabeth Holtzman,
In January 1988, only a few weeks before his death, the Georgia state legislature formally recognized his contribution to society. At the state capitol he was presented the first Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award by the Georgia legislature and Governor Joe Frank Harris. As a culminating tribute to King's legacy, in November 2002 the new federal courthouse in downtown Albany was named in his honor.
Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988).
Adam Fairclough, To Redeem the Soul of America: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987).
David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: William Morrow, 1986).
Mary Royal Jenkins, Open Dem Cells: A Pictorial History of the Albany Movement (Columbus, Ga.: Brentwood Academic Press, 2000).
Mary Sterner Lawson, Albany State University
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.