Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

JOHNNIE L. COCHRAN JR.'S Remarkable Journey

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

JOHNNIE L. COCHRAN JR.'S Remarkable Journey

Article excerpt

JOHNNIE L. COCHRAN JR.'S Remarkable Journey.

From Shreveport, Louisiana, to Los Angeles, California; from a supportive family of modest beginnings to worldwide celebrity status as one of America's most competent and successful trial lawyers; from legal practitioner to author: such have been the myriad journeys of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.

In the months since the O.J. Simpson "not guilty" verdict came down for the jury, the pace of the professional and private life of Attorney Cochran has accelerated to new levels, culminating in October with the publication of Journey to Justice.

Cochran returns to the pages of Black Issues in Higher Education in a followup to his Nov. 2, 1995, interview. In this exclusive interview with Black Issues president William E. Cox, Cochran talks about Journey to Justice and many of the experiences he has both enjoyed and endured in the days since the Simpson verdict.

What has been the biggest surprise for you in the last year?

The biggest surprise has been the acceptance that I've received all across the country. In Charlotte, North Carolina, I started signing books at 6:30 p.m. and didn't finish until after 11:00 p.m. I've had white people say that they didn't agree with the [Simpson] verdict, but if they are ever in trouble, they want me to be their lawyer. So the positive reception that I've received has really been a pleasant surprise.

What do you consider to be the basic theme or message in Journey to Justice? What does it say to African Americans and other people of color in this country? What does it say to majority America?

The basic theme of the book is that there is no substitute in life for faith in God, belief in God, putting Him first in your life. [However, use] hard work, preparation and education to prepare yourself for opportunities that will ultimately come, even in a racist society.

When they come, just be prepared. That's why education is such a key and why knowledge is power. Information is power. It's not power to dominate others, but it's power to control your own destiny. That's why it was important to tell the story of my early life in Shreveport, Louisiana.

We didn't have a lot, but we had a lot of love and a lot of security. Our parents instilled in us this desire to succeed and to be the best that we can be. My father was such a visionary that when he got a chance to come to California, he went immediately because there were opportunities there.

The strength of family life, and the support of the family for what you are trying to do is really instructive to Black and white Americans. We had never heard of -- or would ever think about -- the word "dysfunctional." We were a family where everybody just pulled together and rooted for each other. Your aunts and uncles would sometimes live with you, always your grandmother was there, and it was just a great, great place to grow up with all this love and always Christian faith.

What motivated you to write Journey to Justice?

To tell my story. I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about what an advocate does -- to talk about my belief in the Constitution; to talk about my family; to talk about the importance of education -- and also to respond to some of these other lawyers and all these people who used the [O.J. Simpson criminal] trial as the vehicle for their books.

How do you feel about being a member of the literary world?

Probably the thing that made me feel perhaps the best of all was my daughter Tiffany calling me one night. She said, "Daddy, I am crying and I'm just on chapter one. I want to thank you for writing this book because I know about my family now. I want to thank you for doing this. And, Daddy, it's powerful. I didn't know all those things about my grandfather and my great-grandparents. Thank you for putting it all down for us to see." That really moved me to have my own child say that.

African-American law professor Paul Butler has asserted that Black jurors should sometimes find Black defendants 'not guilty' even when they have committed a crime, through the jury nullification theory. …

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