I went to an all-boys high school. The school was built in 1924 and bore the name Lanier in honor of the Civil War poet Sidney Lanier. The school mascot was Poets.
Before 1964, no Black boy had ever sat in a classroom on its campus. That year five boys from the Black community enrolled to complete their senior year of high school. One of them was Vernon Pitts, for many years the head of the Fulton County Public Defender’s Office in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1965, I along with about 13 other Black kids were the first of our community to sit in a classroom at Lanier Jr. High School for Boys. It was a contentious school year. Daily our right to attend the school was contested by white boys our age and white teachers our parents' age and older.
The next year, those of us who did not succumb to the race-baiting, taunts name-calling and returned to the Black school, moved across the street to the senior high school.
The 1966–67 school year saw an outright fight to preserve Lanier Sr. High School for Boys as a conclave for white boys only. The white students intensified their efforts to drive the Black students back to the schools in the Black community.
The leader of the white students was a short guy who dubbed his posse as His Raiders. Usually, the name of this gang of thugs was preceded by the name of its leader. Their high jinks were not limited to keeping the Black students at Lanier in their place, but they virtually reigned terror on Blacks who worked and shopped in the Ingleside community, an upscale white neighborhood near the school.
A group of them would dress up in white hoods, while one member would dress up in blackface.
At dusk, the leader would pull his car in front of a group of Black adult laborers attempting to shop in the Ingleside stores before settling in for the night in their segregated community on the outskirts of Ingleside. His Raiders would get out of the car, and spot the Raider dressed in blackface walking on the sidewalk.
The Group would pretend to club the one dressed in blackface over the head then throw him in the trunk of the car. The Black shoppers would become terrified and run for their lives to the Black section of Ingleside. The leader and His Raiders had sent a clear message that no Blacks were allowed in the Ingleside shopping district after dark.
This group would come to school the next day braggadocious and share the night’s klan raid with their fellow white students. It did not matter to them if the Black boys overheard their laughter over the fright experienced by their victims.
After all, what could any of them do about it? Who would listen to them? And who would take the Raiders to task for terrorizing Black people in Ingleside? Besides that, talk of their exploits was meant to strike fear in the Black students.
Later in the school year, when we went on spring break in 1967, the leader and His Raiders decided it was time to rid Lanier of its Black students. They would issue a life or death ultimatum to Black students. Surely the Black students would run back to their community as the old Black people had done in the Ingleside business district.
Under the cover of darkness, this gang drove onto the Lanier campus with several buckets of black paint. They painted these words in big letters on the wall of the military science building:
NIGGERS GO HOME OR DIE!
Those words are etched in my psyche today. I don’t take kindly to a threat. I am pleased to report, that not a single Black person went home and not a single Black person died.
The next morning, as the word passed from one brother to another, we girded up our lions to kick some white ass at the end of the school day, if we could wait that long.
When word reached the school administration that the brothers planned to take on the entire school if necessary, both the principal of the school and the Major in charge of the ROTC unit called a joint meeting of the student body. They announced the people who had painted those hurtful words on the wall had been apprehended. The Black students wanted the leader and His Raiders prosecuted.
The school said they would not call the police, but a record would be made and when any of those thugs wanted to enroll into a professional school, the administration would notify the school of their behavior.
The Black students did not like this outcome, but we chilled and a school riot was averted.
Six years later the leader of the Raiders applied for law school at the University of Georgia. Lanier Sr. High School for Boys vouched for his outstanding character. Three years later when the leader had to undergo a moral fitness investigation to determine if he was fit to become a lawyer, Lanier Sr. High School for Boys vouched for his moral character.
Four years later, the Raiders leader applied for a job with the Bibb County District Attorney’s office. Again, he sailed through with flying colors.
For 30 years he brought his racial views to bear on his prosecution of Black men accused of crimes in Bibb County, Georgia. If anyone knew what lurked in his background, other than the Black students from the 66–67 school year at Lanier, they did not let on or were bothered about it.
Thirty years later, the leader of the Raiders was up for a gubernatorial appointment to a seat on the Bibb County Superior Court. I had remained silent for over 30 years. I watched this prosecutor mete out unfair treatment, colored by his racial views, to Black defendants.
I did not believe that what I had to say about his character during his high school days would matter to anyone other than myself.
When news reached me that this guy who had reigned terror on Blacks in the mid-1960s was getting a seat on the superior court bench in my hometown, I thought about what the principal had said would happen to this guy one day when he wanted to go to a professional school.
I sat at my desk overlooking Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta and typed a letter to the Judicial Nominating Commission expressing my experience with the character of this candidate when we were in high school.
I was scared. I feared that it would end my legal career, but I knew in my heart that if I did not write that letter, the Judicial Nominating Commission would not have a complete picture of this candidate.
I took a deep breath, signed, sealed and mailed my letter.
Several weeks after the governor selected someone other than the leader of the Raiders, I received telephone calls from two members of the Judicial Nominating Commission thanking me for writing them with information about the character of this individual when we were high school classmates.
Both callers said had I not written to them they would not have known about this information in this candidate past.
What I now know: there is a stark difference between a selection committee seeking the best possible candidate for judgeships and one seeking to make political hay while they have the numbers.
I hope Dr. Ford finds the former and not the later.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Medium, and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at email@example.com