Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Greatest Generation

Now here's something that gets my attention.

It is perhaps ironic that Rufus Johnson was forbidden from swimming in the city pool where he grew up in Pennsylvania, since it was that denial that set him on a path of historical significance.A decorated War World II veteran, an accomplished lawyer and black-belt Karate expert, Johnson, who is black, is now retired and living in the Hill Country. Despite the effects of age on the body after nearly a century, Johnson doesn’t wear reading glasses; has a broad, toothy smile and hearty laugh; and gives a firm hand shake to anyone he meets. He also carries assorted pocket knives wherever he goes. “I’ve enjoyed all of my life,” Johnson said. This month, he celebrated his 95th birthday with a party at the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park in Fredericksburg.********************************

After the military, Johnson set up practice in California, where he pushed for a public defender position and helped establish the practice of lawyers performing pro bono work. “I settled in San Bernardino, because at that time there was only one black lawyer and there was at least 30,000 Negroes, but it turned out all of my clients were white,” Johnson said.When asked why his clients were white, Johnson didn’t hesitate. “They wanted to win a case,” he said. Not all of his clients were white. In 1964, Johnson went before the California Supreme Court representing Navajos who were arrested two years earlier during a religious ceremony involving peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus. Johnson won the case, which still stands today.

The rest of the marvelous story of Rufus Johnson is here. Happy birthday indeed, Mr. Johnson. You have many admirers.


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