Magazine article The New Yorker

Civility

Magazine article The New Yorker

Civility

Article excerpt

Until last month, Joseph Charles Jones, a lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Judge George Bundy Smith, Sr., a former justice of the New York State Court of Appeals, had not seen each other since May, 1961, when they were both arrested in Montgomery, Alabama. The men had been thrown together as Freedom Riders: civil-rights activists who sought to challenge Jim Crow travel policies in the South. Their reunion, which took place at Chez Lola, a restaurant in Fort Greene, was set up by Charlotta Janssen, an artist who has done a series of paintings inspired by police mug shots of Freedom Riders, a show of which was opening at John Jay College of Criminal Justice the following evening. Janssen, who is of German and Swedish extraction--and who is the co-owner of Chez Lola--seemed dazzled by the presence of the septuagenarians whose youthful visages she had incorporated into her work. "I'd spent hours with both of you before I met you!" she said to Judge Smith, gazing at him over a platter of chilled oysters. "It's amazing to see your mouth move."

Jones, who said that his lawyering these days consists of drawing up wills and persuading the occasional drug dealer to accept a plea bargain, and whose business card advertises his availability for night and weekend appointments, was folksy and loquacious, never using one word where ten, preferably strung together in rhyme, would do. (Of his walk from a nearby bed-and-breakfast, he said, "I saw Brooklyn stand tall, and teach the youth about it all, so that now they come to understand that it's a neighborhood of different cultures that makes the garden grand.") He was self-deprecating--referring to himself as a "poor sinner"--and greeted female guests with a hug and an exhortation to "give me some love, woman." At the time of his arrest, Jones had recently graduated from Johnson C. Smith University, in Charlotte, and as he recalled the event--which came only a few days after another group of Freedom Riders, including the future congressman John Lewis, had been savagely beaten by members of the Ku Klux Klan--his eyes filled with tears. "We got on the bus, we went further south, and the crowds of angry white folk started to get bigger and bigger," he said. "I heard my grandma's spirit say, 'You're God's child; you're as good as any of them. …

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