The first to speak, sitting to my left at the table, was John Lewis. After pointing out how Justice Scalia and he were born under the same zodiac sign (Pisces) but four years apart, we all wished him a belated happy birthday. Lewis said that, from 1963 to 1966, he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Along with Hossea Williams, Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in Lewis’ home state.
The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday." Lewis’ skull was fractured in the confrontation, and his scars are still visible today. Eight days later – on the Ides of March, 1965 -- President Lyndon Johnson demanded passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a speech before a rare joint session of the U.S. Congress.
Sitting directly across the table from me in this dream is Barry McGuire, who is almost the same age as Justice Scalia (they were born less than five months). From the spring of 1962 to January 1965, McGuire was a member of the folk music group The New Christy Minstrels. As he struggled to make it on his own as a musician, McGuire was introduced to a 19-year-old songwriter and musician named P.F. (Phil) Sloan. The one Sloan song that McGuire says epitomized the continuation of his spiritual, philosophical search at the time was “Eve of Destruction,” with that famous angry refrain:
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.
Following President Johnson’s March 15, 1965 Voting Rights Act speech, a bill on the subject was filibustered in the U.S. Senate until a successful cloture vote brought it to the floor, where it passed on May 26, 1965. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a voting rights bill on July 9, 1965. McGuire recorded “Eve of Destruction” sometime between July 12 and July 15, 1965 (its official release date was July 21, 1965). The song contained these lyrics:
Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'
“Eve of Destruction” also reminds us of “Bloody Sunday” three months earlier:
Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
September 20, 1965 broadcast of “Hullabaloo” on NBC.After Congress resolved differences between the two bills in conference, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, 1965. Barry McGuire performed “Eve of Destruction” on a
Turning to my right, I was anxious to hear how Justice Scalia spent the 1960s. He said that, after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1960, he was an associate at the Jones Day law firm in Cleveland from 1961 to 1967. As he said last year in a speech at the University of Chicago, Scalia has a fond view of his 1960s years, saying that his Cleveland law job allowed him to “maintain a human existence … [with] time for your family, your church or synagogue, community … boy scouts, little league.”
Well, now I finally had something to contribute to my own dream dinner discussion! I never led a civil rights march or sang a song that made it to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But I did live in Cleveland in the 1960s, spending time with my family, going to church, and playing little league baseball. So I can share my memories of those times – from the perspective of a white boy in grade school. Full disclosure: I lived in the city from 1957 to the summer of 1964, when my family moved to a south suburb of Cleveland (where my parents still live today).
The years 1961-1967 contain a number of “glory days” moments for Cleveland: the Browns winning the NFL championship (1964), the Barons winning the Calder Cup (1964), the Beatles invading Cleveland Stadium (1966). It was also the “glory days” of steel, when that industry provided steady middle-class income to many families. Sure, the pro baseball team stunk and so did the air, but my Cleveland childhood memories are mostly positive.
the 1966 civil disturbance in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland and the 1967 election of Carl Stokes as the first African-American mayor of a major U.S. city. How did living in close proximity to those events in a northern state affect Scalia’s legal views on the Fifteen Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? I will deconstruct some of Scalia’s writings on race in America since 1967 to see if that helps us to predict how he will vote in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder in 2013.But there were two other events during that period that I would love to ask Scalia about today:
And I have more questions to ask of my dinner guests. Do any of you have thoughts to share on the life’s work of the others? What have John Lewis and Barry McGuire been doing since the 1960s? And what did the music from that period speak to Scalia, if anything?
Answers next week …
(Top image: U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965. AP Photo)