Additional Reporting by Nayaba Arinde, Amsterdam News Editor

Whoever was responsible for selecting “I Am on the Battlefield for My Lord,” as the congressional hymn for the services celebrating the life of Alton Maddox, Jr., who joined the ancestors on April 23, was intimately in touch with his spirit and his nom de guerre “Attorney-at-war.” Also called the “People’s Legal Warrior,” Maddox, who was born on July 21, 1945, in Inkster, Michigan, on the outskirts of Detroit, was the son of an evangelical preacher. Reference to this was made by retired NYPD detective Graham Witherspoon, during his tribute, noting Maddox “ministered through the law the way his father ministered from the pulpit.” In an emotional and organic moment he kissed the closed casket, and spoke on his grief-spurred rush to get from Atlanta that very morning.

The Scripture readings and prayer of comfort calmed things until Keesha Gumbs lifted her voice in song, and it was a melodious, heartfelt version of “Precious Lord.” Her beautiful rendition morphed into the wonderful words of Inez and Charles Barron as they recalled the commitment and courage of the legendary lawyer. Substituting for the Rev. Herbert Daughtry who was unable to attend, the Barrons are a dauntless duo and they raised their voices in praise of Maddox, someone they had marched and fought with for equal justice. “He was indeed our attorney-at-war,” they  said almost in unison.

Nayaba Arinde, Amsterdam News Editor photos

Credit: Nayaba Arinde photo

Former Assemblywoman Inez Barron gave praises to “ Alton H Maddox, our great Warrior, our Attorney-at-War. He understood that we are constantly at war,  and I read that when he proposed to Leola, he told her ‘I’m here for the people,’ and that’s what he did. That’s what we saw in the work he did for the people… that great work… that effective work that he did was in fact for the people and at no cost to the people.”

Current Brooklyn City Council Member Charles Barron boomed, “Alton Maddox was an African warrior. [He] stood up to this system. [He] was a brilliant, brilliant attorney…Don’t let no news media tell you that Tawana Brawley was a hoax. It was the truth. They abused Tawana Brawley, and Alton Maddox stayed with her to the end while others departed.”

Barron continued, “I am a beneficiary of his pro bono work, when we took over the Schomburg library and got arrested – Alton got me off. I would be in jail today if it wasn’t for Alton.”

Then Barron echoed a familiar refrain that is going all around the community.

“You can not talk about Alton Maddox without talking about Leola Maddox. [They] took our youth to Peg Leg Bates up there and taught our youth. Alton Maddox would bring the greatest minds in the African revolutionary world to the Slave Theater and made sure that we were educated.

“We came here to pay our respects to Alton Maddox. And to the system – you stole his license from him, and you asked him to come back crawling to you. and he said ‘No, keep your license because I’m keeping my dignity, myself respect, and I’m gonna fight for people.’”

There was a seamless flow of reflections on Maddox’s eventful life and Yusef Salaam, one of the exonerated Central Park Five, recounted eloquently the role the attorney played in defending them from being accused of raping and assaulting a white female jogger in the park. “He was always ready to go to trial,” he told the audience at Abyssinian Baptist Church Monday morning, who had given Salaam a standing ovation. “I am here today because of him…and he was right, we are at war!” He even summoned the fictional Matlock to compare with his lawyer, declaring we need a “Maddox” show.

Professor James Smalls, who had toiled in the trenches with Maddox throughout many struggles in The Movement, told the audience, “Alton was on mission. He fought for justice because that was the way of God…He understood  purpose, and he knew that all content had intent. He was content and his mission to do justice was intent.”  

Graham Witherspoon casket kiss (Solwazi Afi Olusola photo)

RELATED: Alton Maddox, Jr., the ‘People’s Lawyer’ and Attorney-at-War, dead at 77

The Abyssinian Baptist Church has funeralized many of the great activists and community organizers including, many noted, their own Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, Elombe Brath, and just last month his brother Kwame Brathwaite. There is a certain reverence in that famous church.

Rev. Gloria Taylor spoke on her long time relationship with Maddox, and his 100 percent commitment to the people. 

Conrad Tillard also acknowledged that “greatness of Alton Henry Maddox,” came as he drew inspiration from the “traumas of his youth facing racism in Georgia,” utilizing those experiences to create an unwavering dedication to the community and the pursuit of justice for the people. “Lord, we are just grateful that you produced such a marvelous race man.”

“[The] National Action Network…[was] born as an organization after our working history with Alton,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, Attorney Michael Hardy, and Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson in a statement. “We remember Attorney Maddox  as a fierce fighter for what he believed was right and just for his community and the causes he believed in. Attorney Maddox was one of a kind. Brilliant in so many ways and unrelenting in his fights and struggles down through the years. To say that he was an Attorney-at-War is an understatement. Alton spared no one when it came to seeking justice for the causes and clients he believed in.”

“Alton knew… history and would teach it,” Rev. C. Vernon Mason spoke in thundering tones about the commitment and dedication of Alton Maddox. 

“One of the liberation’s life lessons that Alton taught us is that systems and people who want to oppress you and want you to stay in your place, can’t stand it when you talk about history, so let’s hear some historical facts from our phenomenal professor.”

Mason started his eulogy by quoting scripture and then history from when, “Our African ancestors were kidnapped to this country, labored for 246 years without a payday, and were the economic foundation for what became the United States of America.”

He continued that a “masterful” Maddox drew from the “200,000 Black soldiers who fought for their freedom in the Civil the 12 years of Reconstruction,” to the deal cut with fellow enslaved African holder southern democrat  Samuel J. Tilden to allow northern Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to become president; to the 1857 Dred Scott Decision; to 1896 Plessy versus Ferguson; to Mamie Till Mosley and Emmitt Till; to J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panther Party; to Eleanor Bumpurs.

Mason said, “Alton was extremely competent, courageous, and confident and had an uncompromising philosophy that Black lives matter. He would never back down in fighting for justice for Black people.”

With thousands of marches and rallies as the backdrop, the Black church and Black faith community were instrumental in supporting The Movement said Mason, citing people like; Rev. Dr. William Augustus Jones, Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry, Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts,III, and Rev. Dr. Timothy Mitchell.

Judges and other attorneys would come and sit in the courtroom to observe Maddox in action, said Mason. “The grassroots in the Black community, Alton loved Black people and we knew he was not afraid. The Black press: the print media and Black radio, the City Sun, the Amsterdam News, the Daily Challenge, Big Red, Caribbean News, Inner City Broadcasting WLIB/WBLS, WWRL, weekly rallies – Slave Theater in Brooklyn and the Cotton Club in Harlem… marches and ‘Ain’t gonna be no justice – ain’t gonna be no peace’ rallies; politics and the fight Alton waged against the powers and principalities.”

The tributes continued. Assemblywoman Inez Dickens sent a proclamation, Mason announced.

“We have lost a great man,” said John Beatty, the proud owner of the world famous Cotton Club. He sent a statement given to the AmNews which said in part, “There are many stories told about my friend brother Maddox in newspaper articles, TV shows, highlighting his achievements, and some criticizing his methods, depending on the narrator and his audience. But his private thoughts and personal character were known by a few, and I feel privileged to have had a close relationship with him.” 

The longtime Harlem businessman and loyal supporter of the UAM, and the Maddox family added, “He was a man who lived focused on the uplifting of his own people, willing to sacrifice compensation and personal safety, and fearlessly using his professional skills in the courtroom to defend his own people in a legal system skewed against them.”

To this end, Beatty noted, “When Brother Maddox was prevented from using the Slave Theater in Brooklyn for his weekly forum advancing his work to educate our people in law, I opened the doors of the Cotton Club to give him a Harlem venue to continue his work.”

Speakers  at the funeral for the attorney included: long time UAM – United African Movement member Sarah Russell, Mumia Abu Jamal, activist Pam Africa and husband Razakhan Shaheed, reporter Peter Noel, and Christopher Griffith, brother of race murder victim Michael Griffith.

Attendees included: former politicians Keith Wright and Larry Seabrooks, and activists Nova Felder, Eric Ture Muhammad, and Umar Johnson.

Former UAM moderator John Walker told the Amsterdam News, “There’s talk of naming a street after him, perhaps Harlem at 127th Street between Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.”

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