Amos’s Sermon: Alton Maddox, Eliot Spitzer, Black History, and Racial Politics


Alton Maddox is the best attorney you’ve never heard of. He has been called the most brilliant litigator in the history of the city of New York. In the courtrooms of those boroughs, he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to win acquittals for criminal defendants when the odds appeared to be all against them.

A Black native of segregated Noonan, Ga., Maddox continuously has been an effective warrior for our country’s Black citizens. His record on behalf of defendants is legendary among people in the know. In fact, Maddox is the one who during the late 1980s served as pro bono counsel to the Rev. Al Sharpton, winning acquittals of all counts in a 67-count indictment handed up in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Maddox apparently was too much for the New York Bar. His license to practice law was suspended in 1990 after public officials ill-fatedly attempted to force him to violate client confidences. He has remained indefinitely in a public battle for reinstatement the details of which are available at New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (HLS ’84) remains embroiled in conflict over his role in keeping Maddox in limbo, according to recent coverage in the New York Daily News.

As Black History Month comes to a close, I offer readers of this page piercing observations from Maddox, commentary that I think provides law students and practitioners much to ponder. The extracts are typical of this advocate’s articles that appear regularly in The Amsterdam News, the New York-based weekly that is widely considered to be Black America’s newspaper of record. The critiques typically cross races, cultures, classes, and political parties.

In recent commentary distributed elsewhere, Maddox opined as follows: “Dr. King did not march from Selma to Montgomery in order for the Black classes to put Black faces into high places. Voting is just one tool in the struggle for justice and freedom. Dr. King, on the other hand, was only committed to direct action which arises out of a lack of confidence in the political process. “If he had any faith in voting, he would have never been found in Memphis marching for sanitation workers and planning a Poor People’s Campaign in the nation’s capital. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to end direct action and urban rebellions. He knew that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

“Dr. King sat down with white elected officials when they were ready to smoke a peace pipe. You never saw Dr. King serving as a political escort for white politicians in Black churches and he was not in the business of promoting their political careers. He respected the First Amendment and particularly its separation of church and state injunction.

“Muhammad Ali and Dr. King, historically, share a common characteristic. They possess moral consciences. Stokely Carmichael was Dr. King’s moral compass. Black leaders today are allergic to moral consciences and they set out to destroy anyone with a moral compass.

“Many whites easily associate crime with Black skin. Muhammad Ali faced a steep hurdle in attempting to convince the Supreme Court that he was a conscientious objector especially since Justice Thurgood Marshall had referred to members of the Nation of Islam as a ‘bunch of thugs.’ A conscientious objector is a person with ethical, moral and religious principles.

“Initially, the Supreme Court was leaning towards affirming his conviction for violating the draft law. In the eleventh hour, a law clerk got his hands on Elijah Muhammad’s ‘Message to the Blackman.’ This book took them where no appellate brief could tread. His conviction was unanimously reversed with Marshall abstaining.

“There is an important lesson in Clay v. United States. White judges are in dire need of remedial education before they should be allowed to pass judgment on any case involving the Black experience. Stare decisis highlights the xenophobic history of the Supreme Court.

“Judge Samuel Alito will be a disaster on the Supreme Court in judging the grievances of historically oppressed groups. After the puny performance of the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, only a Black Judas will be asking us to support white Democrats this year.”

Amos Jones is a 3L from Lexington, Ky. Reach him at

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