Rev. Daughtry second from the left, Alton Maddox on the far left with Rev. Daughtry security Weusi.
In the photo: Mr. Maddox, second from right, conferred with the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, second from left, and the lawyer C. Vernon Mason, right, outside a Queens courthouse in 1986. Mr. Maddox was representing one of three Black men who had been set upon by a band of white youths in the Howard Beach section of Queens.
The above title of this article is the name that was given to Attorney Alton Maddox, attorney at war. He seemed to always be in a fighting mood. He was bold, brash and brilliant.
When he came to New York in the 70s, he joined the movement growing out of the killing of Randy Evans in 1976 and the chokehold death of Arthur Miller in 1978. The Black United Front was the lead organization, there were older organizations in which BUF inspired and new organizations which grew out of the movement. I immediately admired him, trusted him and drew him closer to me and the movement. I liked his audacity, fearlessness, dedication and commitment to our people’s advancement.
Attorney Maddox was particularly concerned about the least in society. There was no fee for his service for those who could not pay. He was just as energetic, diligent, resourceful for the poor as he was for the rich, powerful and/or prestigious.
In 1983, there were several hearings in New York on Police Brutality conducted by the subcommittee of the Judiciary committee of the House of Representatives headed by Congressman John Conyers of Michigan.
One hearing was at the State Office building in Harlem. This hearing was cut short due to lack of space, it was continued at the Armory in Harlem, Fifth Avenue and 142nd Street. Then the hearings moved to Brooklyn at the Courthouse Cadman Plaza. Attorney Maddox was as ubiquitous on marches, demonstrations, committee meetings as he was in the courtroom.
Also in 1983, there was another high profile case of police killing. Michael Stewart, a young graffiti artist died in the hands of the police. There was controversy as to how he died, whether it was a chokehold or a beating, etc. The six officers
involved were acquitted in 1985.
In December 1986, Michael Griffith was chased to his death on the street on Howard Beach by a white gang. Maddox became involved in that case. Reverend Al Sharpton called for a car caravan in Howard Beach (each time we rehearse the story, we always get a big laugh because Sharpton didn’t have a car and yet here he was calling for a car caravan.) In his usual resourceful way, he found a car owned and driven by Jim Bell, a Union leader. I decided to join him as he was on the way to Howard Beach.
Councilman Charles Barron and I left the boycott demonstration in Manhattan against Avon
products. This boycott was called by Reverend Jackson who headed Operation PUSH in
Chicago, IL at the time. He asked me and the Black United Front to participate, which we did.
We continued the struggle around Howard Beach, Maddox and Mason had become the preeminent activist lawyers. They urged Governor Mario Cuomo to appoint a special prosecutor.
And they persuaded us not to cooperate with the DA in Queens. When the white youths were
arrested and put on trial. Under his leadership we took up the cause for justice for Michael Griffith and demanded a special prosecutor. At some point a meeting was held among the Brooklyn activists and it was determined that a day of outrage should occur. Thus, Viola Plummer and her D12 organization, reverend Al Sharpton, my BUF representatives Charles Barron, and Michael Amon-Ra myself agreed that there would be a day of outrage to express our anger at what happened to Michael Griffith and other racist attacks as well as police brutality. It was decided that there would be demonstrations at differentsites in Brooklyn. While we were attending the trial of the white gang that chased Michael Griffith to his death, Reverend Sharpton stated that he was going to tie up New York City by sitting on the subway tracks. I asked him if anyone was going with him, and he stated no. I agreed to go with him on the date and time he had planned. I also told Reverend Timothy Mitchell, an active minister who was Pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Queens.
We succeeded in getting Governor Cuomo to appoint a special prosecutor, Charles Hines.
Attending the meeting with Governor Cuomo was Reverend Calvin Butts, Attorney C. Vernon
Mason, myself and others. After hours of arguments with Governor Cuomo he finally agreed to
During the trial I organized a presence in the courtroom borough by borough, to ensure there
would always be supporters in the courtroom. Each day of the trial a borough was responsible for
having their people in the courtroom.
On the day of outrage, Reverend Sharpton and I jumped on the subway tracks. We watched as
other people started jumping on the subway tracks with us. Among them were Assemblyman
Roger Green, activist Ben Chavis and to our surprise, C. Vernon Mason. We were arrested and
brought before the judge for a plea. Some of us pleaded guilty and others pleaded not guilty.
Those that pleaded not guilty were well represented by Attorney Alton Maddox. We disagreed. It
was my understanding that in civil disobedience you break the law and take the consequences
because you believe in a particular cause. Others believed you fight the case and plead not guilty.
Those of us who pleaded guilty had to find another lawyer. I selected Colin Moore. Thus
tempered the relationship between Maddox and I. Later, this coupled with the situation around
the Tawana Brawley case terminated our relationship. However, he remained friends with
Reverend Sharpton, Charles Barron.
Eventually Reverend Sharpton decided to start his own organization in Harlem named National
Action Network (NAN). Maddox continued with his organization holding rallies at the Slave
Theater in Brooklyn, called African People's Movement.
In November 1987, when Tawana Brawley, a 15 year old African American girl from Wappinger
Falls, New York, claimed to have been raped and smeared with dog feces, Sonny Carson and I
were among the first to journey to Wappinger Falls. We took up the cause for this young girl and
were prepared to fight for her as long as it would take to bring the culprits to justice. As time moved on, I never got a chance to see her or even talk to her, so I decided to back away from this particular battle. My policy is if I'm going to fight for someone, put my family, church and myself on the line, which may result in violence or some reprisal by our enemies, then I must at east have a conversation with the person(s) for whom I'm fighting. That never happened with Tawana Brawley.
At the same time, there was a young lady who was sexually abused by four young white students
at St. John's University. I was informed of this and took up that battle. Simultaneously, there
were those who were fighting for justice for the Tawana Brawley case and the young lady who
was sexually abused at St. John's University.
While Attorney Alton Maddox, Reverend Al Sharpton, Attorney C. Vernon Mason and others, I must say, most of the black community was supportive of Tawana Brawley. I became suspicious, however, most of my time, energy and resources was directed to the St. John's victim. This young lady came forward. I spoke with her and provided counseling as well as organized support.
Eventually, Sharpton and others including Tawana Brawley, Attorney Maddox was sued. Sharpton for $65,000.00 and Tawana Brawley was sued for much more $140,000.00. Sharpton's amount was far less than the others. The jury believed him that he trusted Maddox who he thought had met with Tawana Brawley. Percy Sutton and Earl Graves, paid Sharpton’s fine. It was questionable if any money was collected from the rest.
In time, Maddox and I reconnected but never as we once were. That piece of history does not subtract from my admiration for him and his wife. There was no doubt in my mind that he was not sincere or didn't mean what he said. I always believed that in his mind, he acted from the highest ideals.
Perhaps we hit it off so well and he was so fierce in his battle against injustice due to the fact that
we both came out of the South and saw and experienced the naked, raw, conspicuous evils of
southern racism and its system of segregation. I think those of us who have grown up in the
south have experiences burned in our memory the savagery of southern racism. We have experienced it personally with our family and our friends.
Maddox came to New York with this fire in his soul. He was ready to fight anywhere, the courtroom, streets, and suites, anytime, day or night for what he believed helped our people.
The rumor was he was offered his license back on certain conditions. Alton Maddox refused these conditions, but still publicly stated that he was disbarred without publicly mentioning there
was an offer on the table.
It's a sad chapter in our struggle. While others who were less committed, less generous, in my opinion, received and received more praise, gratitude and appreciation from the people. But beyond this side of history life continues.
We were just reading our Daily Prayer and Scripture, Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 (I've written 365 prayers and post them to Facebook for every day of the year and 52 weekly practices for the mastery of life) taken from John 11:26, Jesus Christ says, “he that liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
So this scripture, among many others tells us we all have to give an account of what we’ve done and didn’t do. When that day comes for Maddox, I'm sure that the judge of all the universe will give him his just due. So long old warrior - no more battles, no more arguments for now all the former things have passed away. Safe journey - Farewell.