Spend 20 minutes with this

This morning I listened to the podcast of last Friday’s Fresh Air. Most of the show consists of reruns of two older interviews. The first was an interview with Oliver Sacks from last year as he was promoting his book on music and the brain. Interesting, but nothing special.

The second item, though, is the reason I’m writing this post. It’s an interview with J.L. Chestnut, the first African-American lawyer in Selma, Alabama. Chestnut was a contemporary of Martin Luther King’s and worked with King and the NAACP during the 60s. The interview was done in 1990, when Chestnut’s autobiography was published, and was rerun to commemorate his death on Tuesday of last week.

The interview is both informative and moving. Chestnut touches on both the tactical aspects of the Civil Rights—including the differences he had with King when they first started working together—and way Alabama’s society was structured 40—50 years ago. He speaks simply and directly, letting the facts give his narrative it’s power. He was, for example, at the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the march from Selma to Montgomery on Bloody Sunday in 1965. A thread that runs through the interview is how he eventually came to accept King’s views on civil disobedience. The story of him throwing his gun away after King’s murder is just beautiful.

Terry Gross deserves a lot of credit for giving this interview a light touch. She recognizes that Chestnut can carry the interview by himself and just needs a directing question here and there.

At the end of the interview, Chestnut reflects on how much improvement has been made and how much still needs to be made. Still true 18 years later. The interview is just 20 minutes long and can be found here. It’s well worth the time.