Attorney Conrad J. Lynn was as much a revolutionary outside the courtroom as he was inside it, and the varied cases he handled over six decades stand as a testament to his legal insight and unyielding conviction. Sometimes it appeared as though Lynn went out of his way to find the most challenging and controversial circumstance to which to bring his wise, resolute counsel.
Whether it was H. Rap Brown, Puerto Rican radicals or his brother, Winfred, who had refused to be drafted in the U.S. Army in protest of its segregationists policies, Lynn was ready to defend—and in many instances quite successfully.
One case that our readers in Harlem may recall involved his defense of six young Black boys accused of killing a woman, a Hungarian Jewish refugee, who with her husband owned and operated a secondhand clothing store in Harlem. Her husband survived the attack. Lynn took the case after the mothers of the children were turned away by the NAACP and the Democratic clubs. This case was just the kind of case Lynn relished, although it was one that called for a team of lawyers.
But the Harlem Six case occurred in the mid-60s. Decades earlier Lynn had established the reputation that would make him one of the most brilliant lawyers of his era.
Born in Newport, R.I., Nov. 4, 1908, Lynn was the son of a domestic worker and a common laborer who had sought a better life outside the segregated state of Georgia. He was still a very young boy when his family moved to Rockville Centre, Long Island. A more than competent student in his early years, he was the first African-American graduate of the Syracuse University Law School in 1932.
At this time, he was still a member of the Communist Party, although by 1939 he would be expelled for supporting striking oil workers in Trinidad in their fight against Britain.
Always an adventurous soul, he was among the first of the freedom fighters in the 1940s who dared to defy the Jim Crow laws. Despite the danger, Lynn bravely boarded the buses, accompanied by white comrades, and openly defied the state’s law against integration.
When he took his brother’s case against the U.S. Army, Lynn was met with derision and hostility from the NAACP, which felt that his action was contrary to the call for Black Americans to support the war.
In the 50s, when the fight for Puerto Rican independence was raging, Lynn represented one of the five nationalists charged with shooting at members of Congress while they were in session. They were convicted.
With the recent death of Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban revolution, Lynn came to mind because he was among a number of notable activists who were members of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and incensed by the U.S. invasion of Cuba, the so-called Bay of Pigs debacle.
A few years later, he was embroiled in politics as a founding member of the Freedom Now Party. Eventually, the aim to build an independent Black political party fizzled out, mainly as a result of infiltration by the police. “The most impressive campaign,” Lynn wrote in his autobiography “There Is a Fountain,” was waged by the Rev. Albert Cleage in Detroit. He received 39,000 votes for governor of Michigan in 1964.
Lynn was also closely associated with Malcolm X during this period. Most of his time with Malcolm was consumed in the courtroom, defending the Nation of Islam on a sundry of circumstances.
Then there was the “Kissing Case,” in which Lynn was the attorney for two young Black boys from North Carolina who were charged with rape because they had kissed a young white girl during a game of playing house. After being held in custody for months without bail, the boys were released after an international campaign led by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Throughout the 60s as the war in Vietnam raged, Lynn was in and out of the courtroom defending young men who refused enlistment in the military that was becoming more involved in the war in Southeast Asia. Lynn was successful in one case before the Supreme Court defending a “draft resister” who was a conscientious objector. During this phase he worked closely with the famed attorney William Kunstler.
Along with the draft resisters, he had a docket full of cases that centered on the activities of African-American militants, including H. Rap Brown.
In 1972, when he sought one of the three vacancies on the New York State Court of Appeals, he justified the quest by saying, “It’s time for a Black man to serve on the state’s highest court, since 90 percent of all those awaiting trial in state prisons are either Black or Puerto Rican.”
For the next several years, Lynn, though still in and out of the courtroom, began working diligently on his autobiography. There are very revealing chapters on his tangle with the House Un-American Activities Committee, his representation of Robert Williams and his involvement with the revolutionaries of Zimbabwe. His international jaunts were temporarily halted after the State Department attempted to seize his passport after he traveled to Vietnam in 1968. Later, he would become a founding member of the anti-war group Refuse & Resist.
Lynn’s uncommonly intrepid days came to an end Nov. 16, 1995, in Pomona, NY. He was 87 and worked right up to his final breath.
In the epilogue of his book, Lynn provided what could be called a prologue on the current political turmoil. “The forces fighting for a humane future have proved themselves in the past capable of incredible sacrifice in order to defeat the forces of darkness,” he wrote. “The struggle of our brothers and sisters in the neo-colonial regions of Africa, Asia, Central and South America will at long last re-arouse the spirit of working people in the so-called advanced countries. As their own conditions worsen in this last stage of the traditional order, the majorities in the more established countries will have to make a choice between fascism and a social revolution. Perhaps, it will be possible in the cases I continue to handle to encourage in a small way the building of a base for a real civilization.”