The day the Law bent, they had passed out flyers using the “N” word and calling the people of Fairfield, Alabama to come to a racial march with them, in protest of the blacks having the freedom to be a part of the Unions, public swimming pools and public parks.
Their plan was to meet on the street near the car wash to begin the parade, and it was unclear if their white hoods would be used in the march. But, their apparel was not as relevant to Frank, as the intention of their march – to cause a division in the community, riots and all manner of chaos. And, to stop them would mean bending the law for this City attorney.
He sat on the couch watching the evening news from his console television, peeling oranges as he did each night as a part of his evening meal, since his wife had passed on, many years before. He kept his stories close to his chest, but on this particular night he was ready to talk. Something was stirring in him and he wanted to recount part of the story to a young man who was entering law school that year. He rarely talked about the things he had witnessed in WWII or as the City Attorney for a little community right outside of Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960’s, named Fairfield. For my uncle to share meant there was an important lesson to learn, as well as an amazing story in history for anyone who would take the time to listen. We called him, Uncle Frank, but to the rest of the world he was, Daddy, Papa Frank, My Good Friend or simply Frank B. Parsons – Attorney at Law.
Uncle Frank’s life motto as a Christian and City Attorney was, “Do your best to be kind to everyone.” He meant just that, everyone. No matter their race or religion, Uncle Frank worked hard to help them in any way he could whether it was at work, home or in his community.
Frank began by telling the young man how the Klu Klux Klan had come into his town handing out inflammatory newsletters and flyers – pushing hard the Jim Crow Law. They came calling themselves the National States Rights Party, lead by Dr. Edward R. Fields and Mr. Robert Lyons. The group wanted to have a march to protest and prevent African Americans from joining the Work Unions, designated white swimming pools, and public parks.
In this small town, mining companies provided the majority of jobs that could help anyone have a decent life for their families. But, unless you were a part of the Worker’s Union you could not get a good job, no matter how experienced or skilled you might be.
Frank believed the constitution applied to all people no matter their color or religious beliefs. He believed people should have what they needed to provide for their families if they were qualified to do the work. And, if not, he believed in a good education for all. His personal code of conduct had earned him respect among the White community as well as the African American community.
He knew the law well and knew that in Civil Law, you cannot be prosecuted for what you might do, only for what you did do. But Frank saw the proverbial writing on the wall. By this group having a march, and having meetings that were clearly meant to cause a riot and anger in an area of the country already struggling with the “liberal” idea of equality for all. The only course of action he could take to protect his community was to bend the law to the point of possibly breaking it. He would write up an injunction for a judge to pass that would stop the Klan before anything could start. Yes, this would be violating the rights of Dr. Fields and Mr. Lyons, but sometimes, you have to choose between two evils. Destroying relations in the city, or violating the rights of those whose intent it was to pursue an evil course.
Frank gathered some like-minded men and issued an injunction prohibiting participants from engaging in a gathering or encouraging people to come to a street parade or gathering in the streets to listen to their speeches that were planned for the next day. Though a riot had not broken out, and the evil had not fully happened, yet, the injunction was issued. This is where Frank bent the law. Also, a permit was needed according to City Ordinance. The Klan had not applied for one, nor would one be given if they did apply.
Claiming to have been denied their Civil Rights to Freedom of Speech and the right to Assemble, the Klan hired a lawyer, Melvin L. Wulf, who worked for the American Civil Liberties Union.
This case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court where the City of Fairfield, Uncle Frank and his group of brave men lost their case, but he had made his views clear and had taken a stand for those who were persecuted. At the Supreme Court, Uncle Frank described the flyer the Klan distributed in Fairfield as being full of “the same venom, the same agitation, the same invitation to disorder and riot”. He worried that the Klan would “stir up one portion of the population—a hot-headed portion of the population—against another portion of the population. The City of Fairfield went to Washington D. C. knowing they would lose, but happy to do so because their goal had been achieved. Their actions had set a precedent and hopefully made a different (if only for a weekend) for the people of Fairfield Alabama.
Tragically, violence in this area continued. Fifteen months after the parade was denied, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Street church was bombed, killing four young African-American girls who were taking and giggling between Sunday School and Church. There had been a fifth girl in the bathroom that day who narrowly escaped, Carolyn Maull. You can read her tender and amazing story she wrote with Denise George, While the World Watched. https://www.amazon.com/While-World-Watched-Birmingham-Survivor/dp/1414336373/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
To read the case study of Frank B. Parsons and the City of Fairfield, go to:
Evil, prejudice and hatred will exist as along as this broken world continues. And as long as this world continues it will be in great need of a Savior. The only thing that can change this world is for us to be changed by the Love of Christ active and living in our lives.
But, if we will do what we can, with what we have in front of us, then the small actions can have some larger influence. Frank made one small move that had a large effect on his community. Though Frank B. Parsons lost the case in the Supreme Court, he gained the honor of meeting many men and women who would continue the stand and fight against prejudice and evil persecution of others.
Fairfield continued to suffer a bit longer as racism continued in its neighboring communities. When hate hits, everyone is affected.
To stand out, to be different for the sake of righteousness, and be a voice for those who are being persecuted is scary. To be different from the world can cause you to experience social rejection and even persecution. Some people have lost their jobs, home, families and their good name because they took a stand and said, “Enough! Not on my watch! This ends right here with me, right now! ”
Do you ever wonder if it’s worth taking a risk? Do you ever wonder if there is anything you can really do to make a difference? There is:
Take your gifts and care for what is in front of you and use them to express what is true, merciful and in keeping with your humble walk with the Lord.
- You can use your social media to express distain for this kind of evil tearing at our country and the foundation of our Judea-Christian principles.
- You can write you officials in government on the local, state and national level.
- And, this is something we can all do, you can smile and be kind to everyone you meet, as Frank B. Parsons did – black, white, American Indian, Muslim, Hispanic, Asian – Everyone! Choosing to standing up for righteousness, justice, mercy and grace means you will probably step out of your comfort zone. it might mean the loss of some friends It might even mean years of court battles, all the way to the Supreme Court. But the rewards are more than we can count in this life – so we continue to count them after this life has passed.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)
“always seek to do good to one another” (1 Thess. 5:15)
“forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:13)
“put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:10-11)
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