In pondering or even celebrating Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy’s transition from a book into a film, it is imperative to acknowledge that Stevenson’s contribution is one of many.
Here, I reference the reality that Stevenson embodies a single attempt to actualize justice for those too often deemed beyond its reach. In considering others who have executed a similar praxis, my mind extends to Alton Maddox.
Maddox, like Stevenson, used an anti-black law to vindicate those afforded merciless trials and sentencing. Unlike Stevenson, Maddox, cited white assailants to acquit a black person deemed guilty in the court of public opinion.
Maddox’s actions deemed him a sinner in an anti-black America, a sinner who sought to not only oppose white supremacist law but to accuse white supremacists. Therefore, he will never be the star of a motion picture. Thus, to consider Maddox alongside Stevenson’s dramatized story, the Just Mercy film functions as a black friend to a racist history. This relationship between a black friend to racist, like the relationship between a seemingly race positve film to a racist country, actualizes the what it supposedly counters. Specifically, Stevenson delineates he who challenges the law, not the lawmakers. While this statement does not seek to downplay Stevenson’s invaluable communal work, this distinction is of great significance.
For those unfamiliar with Alton Maddox, he was Tawana Brawley ’s attorney. Tawana Brawley was and is, the fifteen-year-old black teen gang-raped, mutilated, and ridiculed by five white men. The white world, however, conceptualizes Brawley, not as a rape victim, but as a liar who dared to name white assailants.
Maddox, a Howard University Alum, epitomized courage in providing council for a young black girl condemned for her honesty. This honesty has gone on to function as a hoax in America. Maddox’s involvement in the case resulted in the indefinite suspension by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn due to his ability to master what was supposed to “master” him. Maddox’s mastery illustrates the anxiety an anti-black society has for black intellect, particularly, the academically decorated black person.
Institutions convey an intentional dichotomy with their academic ambiance. If their halls and walls could talk, they would speak to an awakening that often overcomes the budding black scholar or professional. This awakening betrays black injustice only to implement these very evils and demand acquiescence.
Moreover, the white world will not say Alton Maddox’s name and will not tell his story. Maddox, though a practicing attorney in Georgia, has an an obscured legacy buried and sullied in the white supremacist sut that commonly accompanies black bravery. The anti-black world would much rather see the black world regard racism as an intangible essence that damns us all—like the wind. The anti-black world encourages the oppressed to regard racism as words on a page, not performed by actual monsters. Laws, words, micro-aggressions, etc., bear great significance, but they are what comes from the egg, not what creates it.
This anti-black preference for distorted black intellectualism and praxis betrays the anti-black world as encouraging a mythical change that ensures actual change will never manifest. Furthermore, anti-blackness, as an informant to a black conception of evolution, provides cyclical disenfranchisement lives long and strong behind the veil of victory.