Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nat Caldwell Knew How to Do It

Nat Caldwell is at right (with Gene Caldwell, John Seigenthaler and Wayne Whitt)

My late mentor, Nat Caldwell, knew how to use private gentle persuasion to get the job done. A Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter for the Nashville Tennesseean, he was also Al Gore's next-desk neighbor and mentor.

Nat's unheralded oral history interview with Memphis State University (my law school alma mater) describes how he identified antitrust law violations in the coalfields and found the antitrust lawyers to win justice for small coal operators. The rest is Supreme Court history (the Pennington case and the Noerr-Pennington doctrine).

Nat also knew what to do after desegregation became the law of the land.  He didn't sit on his butt, like so many journalists, and watch.  Nat believed that democracy was not a spectator sport.  Nashville was his home, and he took a personal interest in seeing that justice was done.  He went undercover as a homeless man in the 1940s.  He went undercover as a nursing home patient in the 1960s.  He had guts and grace and class.

So how did Nat Caldwell respond to Little Rock segregationist riots?

Nat Caldwell told me that he met privately with Middle Tennessee county judges (now called mayors) and persuaded them to desegregate voluntarily, without raising a ruckus that was bad for business.

Every single county school system in the Middle Tennessee counties that Nat Caldwell visited desegregated peacefully, without riots or explosions or murders. I thought of that after speaking to Clerk of Court counsel Geoffrey Dobson today: Gay marriage will likely be honored in St. Johns County on January 6, 2015. Mr. Dobson wrote a legal memo, now public record, explaining that the Court clerk could be sued for damages for civil rights violations if licenses are not issued, for violation of a known constitutional right.

Kudos to Cheryl Strickland and Geoffrey Dobson. Viva!

Mission accomplished, without anyone needing to file a lawsuit here, or picket, or even raise their voice.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

No comments: