Kunte Kinte to Ambassador George W. Haley
"A Family Cycle Completed"
This article appeared in The Washington Afro-American
Bar Association of the District of Columbia President Jack H. Olender opened wide the door of diversity Friday, May 5 by hosting the Washington Bar Association in the final "Heroes in Law" luncheon series honoring George W. Haley, Ambassador to The Gambia. The luncheon, which took place at the National Press Club, brought together for the first time the WBA, a predominantly African American bar formed in 1925 to offset exclusion from other District organizations, and the BADC, which had until 1956 boasted a "whites only" signature. Charles W. Rhyne, BADC's President during that period, moved to the forefront in civil rights by beginning integration proceedings, making BADC membership color-blind.
The event was attended by such dignitaries as D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Annice Wagner, D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Eugene Hamilton, and a score of Gambian and U.S. state officials and agency heads, all of whom profusely praised Ambassador Haley for his courage and the BADC for its efforts to forge a friendship between the two Bars.
In introducing Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, Olender joked that it was good, considering the transportation system in the District of Columbia, that Secretary Slater was able to get to the luncheon.
During his comments, Secretary Slater stated that in bringing the two Bars together, not only diversity, but the wonders of democracy in America were being celebrated. Secretary Slater, who met Haley while a law student at the University of Arkansas School of Law, praised the Ambassador for blazing the way for other minorities at the University and for being instrumental in opening doors once permanently closed to African Americans. He said that Haley, in his own way, was continuing to write the story begun by his renowned brother Alex Haley, of Roots fame, and that this particular chapter would reach into the next millennium.
His Excellency John P. Bojang, the Gambian Ambassador to the United States, praised Haley for being a man of consistent "character," and stated that his country was proud to have Haley not only as Ambassador, but as "friend" and "partner." Ambassador Bojang commented that upon learning of George Haley's appointment as Ambassador to The Gambia, Haley's ancestral home, the people in his country "rejoiced," knowing well Haley's reputation for the pursuit of justice.
In his address to the audience Ambassador Haley stated that he would like to change the title of his award from "Hero in Law" to "Hero of Justice," and sounded a call for the attorneys present to continue to seek justice above all else. He stated that "heroism" is "the jurisdiction of those who do not mortgage their backbone to curry favor or undue privilege," and remarked that lawyers, because of their prominent place in society, have an obligation to redress injustice and give back to those less fortunate.
Haley further commented, "If you distill but one theme from all I have said let it be the recognition that the expansion of justice must be the goal we strive to attain. It will be the main piston driving human history in the third millennium.
"Thus, here I stand before you not so much a hero but the product--the product--of heroic struggles. Here I am, the United States Ambassador to the Gambia. I went to the Gambia voluntarily. Nine generations ago, my ancestor, Kunta Kente had no choice. He left the Gambia imprisoned in a bleak hold of a slave ship.
"A familial cycle has been completed. Kunta must be smiling. Two-hundred years ago, slavery was Kunta's lot. Today, African-Americans are active at all levels of politics. We talk of Colin Powell as a Presidential candidate. From Kunta Kente to Colin Powell; another cycle is being completed. Kunta's smile is broader.
"Fifty years ago, I entered the University of Arkansas Law School. Separated from the general student body, I was forced to live and study in a cramped basement of one of the school's buildings. It was reminiscent of a slave in the hold of a ship. I was the Kunta Kente of the law school. Now, I am being honored as a member of a profession that grudgingly accepted me. A professional cycle has been completed. Kunta is slapping his leg in delight."
When queried by a reporter afterwards, Olender stated that he believes this event will not only open avenues of communication to help usher in diversity in the Bar, but would hasten the inauguration of a new era of friendship. "My goal as President has been to present some of the best, black and white, the law has to offer. Our "Heroes," men and women, have shown how their concern for equality and rights have made this country so much stronger," Olender said. "By continuing to come together and share our common experiences as human beings, we bridge the gap of differences and increase dialogue, friendship and openness in the Bar. I believe we have accelerated the opportunity for the Bar to become one."
Before adjourning, Olender pronounced to the audience that his dream, one that seemed highly unlikely until now, was that in the very near future, the Bar Association of the District of Columbia and the Washington Bar Association would meet as the Washington Bar Association of the District of Columbia."