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From Selma To Charlottesville: Trailblazing Civil Rights Attorneys Will Discuss Their Experiences In Bryant Park

A protester outside of Trump Tower last month.
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A protester outside of Trump Tower last month. Scott Heins / Gothamist

Law professor John Brittain and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel both spent time as young attorneys fighting the KKK and White Citizens’ Councils in the Deep South during the late 1960s. “But Charlottesville showed people not wearing masks, they were very brazen,” Siegel told Gothamist, referring to the white supremacist rally in Virginia last month that left anti-racist protester Heather Heyer dead and many others injured. “The Southern civil rights issues we were up against fifty years ago are very relevant today, especially with the potential for increased violence.”

On Wednesday evening at the Bryant Park Reading Room, Brittain and Siegel will read their essays that appear in the recently published book, Voices of Civil Rights Lawyers: Reflections from the Deep South, 1964 - 1980.

Brittain’s essays include “Two Arrests While Practicing in Mississippi” and “Growing Up on the Gold Coast,” while Siegel will read “The Full Court Press for Voting Rights in Alabama.” The two friends will then take questions and lead a discussion about their experiences in the South compared to the civil rights movement of 2017.

Siegel, who as the head of the NYCLU received death threats for representing the KKK after Mayor Rudolph Giuliani rejected a permit to let them march in New York City, said that what happened in Charlottesville is an example of how separating Constitutionally protected speech from violence has become more difficult.

“Reportedly [the white supremacists] had guns in the open. We now have more states that are open carry, more people have gun licenses in states with lenient gun laws, and that creates a new problem,” he said. “How do people that believe in free speech, but who are opposed to bigoted remarked by Nazis, the Klan, how do we deal with that? How do we isolate the bigots and move forward to racial equality?”

The reading starts Wednesday September 6, at 7pm, in Bryant Park along 42nd Street.

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