Last week, UPM was saddened to learn of the passing of author Judge Gordon Martin. He was 82. We had the great pleasure of working with Judge Martin on his book Count Them One by One: Black Mississippians Fighting for the Right to Vote.
Count Them One by One is a comprehensive account of the groundbreaking case written United States v. Theron Lynd. Lynd, the first case brought to trial in Mississippi by the Justice Department, taking on a seemingly omnipotent registrar’s denial of the right to vote to African Americans, laid the foundation and framework for the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
In 1962 Martin was a young lawyer with Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and traveled to Mississippi for to help prepare Lynd. His role was to find new witnesses and talk with those we had already identified whose testimony would demonstrate the systemic discrimination against the county’s black citizens.
It was no simple matter. “The real heroes of this story,” Martin writes, “are the African American citizens who all risked their jobs, their health, even their lives, to attempt to register to vote, and then to testify in federal court about their rejection as voters for no reason other than the color of their skin.”
He writes in his preface:
They are not household names, not even Vernon Dahmer, who was murdered because of his pursuit of the cause of voting rights. But they had stayed vividly in my memory during the intervening years…There would have been no Lynd case without their courage, without their tenacity in going back over and over again to attempt to register to vote. Without them and without their counterparts in some other Deep South counties and parishes, the Justice Department could not have acted. There would have been no Voting Rights Act, and there would have been no Obama presidency.
Decades later, Martin returned to Mississippi to find these brave men and women he had never forgotten. He interviewed the still-living witnesses, their children, and friends. On publishing the book Martin said, "It's satisfying knowing that courageous local African Americans who sought to vote will be recognized for the first time. I talked, for example, to the grandson of one of our witnesses who was three when his grandfather died. He had no idea his grandfather was a hero."
Returning to Boston after his work in Mississippi, Martin was an Assistant U.S. Attorney, a commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, founding partner of the law firm Martin, Morse, Wylie and Kaplan, and a dedicated participant in Democratic politics. From 1983 to 2004 he served as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court. He was a visiting professor at several law schools and longtime adjunct professor at New England Law Boston. He was also active in national juvenile justice groups and in Democratic politics
It seems apropos to post this remembrance of Martin on Election Day because Martin worked so hard and risked so much to enfranchise African Americans in Mississippi.
In 2011 Martin was interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America where he spoke with the same passion for voting rights that he displayed in 1962.