Dovey johnson roundtree, defense lawyer and civil rights warrior, dies at 104 – the washington post iphone 6 data recovery software

Dovey Johnson Roundtree, a Washington criminal-defense lawyer and courtroom warrior for civil rights who played a critical early role in the desegregation of interstate bus travel and mentored several generations of black lawyers, died May 21 at an ­assisted-living facility in Charlotte. She was 104.

In a career that spanned nearly half a century, Ms. Roundtree defended predominantly poor African American clients — as well as black churches, community groups and the occasional politician. She was, former Fisk University president Walter J. Leonard once told The Washington Post, “a legal-aid clinic before there were legal-aid clinics.”

Her best-known case involved the black day laborer accused in the 1964 killing of Georgetown socialite and painter Mary Pinchot Meyer, who reportedly had an affair with President John F.


Kennedy. She won him an acquittal despite what initially appeared to be damning witness testimony.

Ms. Roundtree’s handling of the high-profile legal matter was later praised by Robert S. Bennett, who observed the proceedings as a clerk for the judge and decades later represented President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Ms. Roundtree, Bennett recalled in his memoir “ In the Ring” (2008), “had a motherly warmth” and a “low-key, casual style” that appealed “not only to the mind but also the heart and soul of the jurors.”

Interviewed for a book about the trial, “ A Very Private Woman” (1998), by political reporter Nina Burleigh, Ms. Roundtree explained that the case had additional significance for her because the defendant, Raymond Crump Jr., was a black man who was accused of murdering a white woman.

“I think in the black community there was a feeling that even if Crump was innocent, he was a dead duck,” she said. “Even if he didn’t do it, he’s guilty. I took that as a personal challenge. I was caught up in civil rights, heart, body, and soul, but I felt law was one vehicle that would bring remedy.”

Bennett and Burleigh were among those convinced that Crump — a penniless alcoholic whom Ms. Roundtree described in her autobiography as “incapable” of “clear communication” or “complex thought” — was wrongly freed. He was later convicted of assault and arson, and the Meyer case remains unsolved.

In addition, she mentored younger black lawyers — including Charles J. Ogletree Jr., who later became a professor at Harvard Law School — and preached at Southeast Washington’s Allen Chapel AME Church, where she worked as a minister for 35 years before retiring to Charlotte in 1996.

Those who did practice were banned from using the cafeteria, restrooms or law library at the district courthouse in Washington, and legal organizations such as the Women’s Bar Association of D.C. — which Ms. Roundtree integrated in 1962 — had whites-only policies.

African American clients who brought personal injury or negligence suits were euphemistically “referred uptown” — directed to white lawyers who had a better chance of winning over judges. The “uptown” lawyers then paid black lawyers a fee for referring their clients.

But Ms. Roundtree and Robertson kept clients in their office, regardless of the case. “We worked for eggs and collard greens,” Ms. Roundtree once quipped, noting that she and her partner often accepted clients who couldn’t pay legal fees. For a time, they held second jobs to supplement their incomes.

Incensed, the driver moved all of the passengers but Keys to a new bus in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. When Keys asked why she was not allowed on board, she was arrested by two police officers, jailed for 13 hours and fined $25 for disorderly conduct.

An ICC examiner initially found that the Brown decision “did not preclude segregation in a private business.” But Ms. Roundtree succeeded in applying pressure on the commission through an influential Harlem congressman, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D), who urged the ICC’s chairman to give the case a full hearing.

Ruling on Nov. 7, 1955, the commission agreed that “assignment of seats in interstate buses, so designed as to imply the inferiority of a traveler solely because of race or color, [was] unjust discrimination” and violated the Interstate Commerce Act.

The ICC gave states and bus companies six weeks to desegregate buses as well as bus station waiting rooms and restrooms. (Station restaurants, the commission said, were not essentially connected to travel and could remain segregated.) In a companion case filed separately by the NAACP, the commission made a similar decision for interstate train travel.

But under a new segregationist chairman who had dissented in the Keys case, the ICC refused to enforce its own desegregation ruling: That took six years, not six weeks, until television broadcasts showed activists known as Freedom Riders being beaten and attacked by Ku Klux Klan-led mobs in Alabama as they tried to integrate interstate bus travel in the South.

Dovey Mae Johnson was born April 17, 1914, in Charlotte, where she recalled once hiding under the kitchen table while the Klan thundered past in the night on horseback. Her mother was a seamstress. Her father, a printer for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, died in the influenza pandemic of 1919.

At Howard, she assisted NAACP lawyers Thurgood Marshall and James M. Nabrit Jr. in their preparations for Brown v. Board and other court cases that challenged segregation. She graduated in 1950 and a year later started her law practice with Robertson. He died in 1961.

The Keys case aside, Ms. Roundtree was involved in few court cases that dealt explicitly with civil rights. Instead, she employed her ministerial courtroom style — which mixed a strategic deference to judges with scholarly references to Scripture and Shakespeare — primarily on criminal cases, taking clients whom other lawyers ignored.

Meyer, who had been shot twice while walking along the C&O Canal towpath in Georgetown, was the ex-wife of Cord Meyer, a top CIA official; the niece of Gifford Pinchot, a Pennsylvania governor and conservationist; and the sister-in-law of future Post editor Benjamin Bradlee.

Crump was acquitted after Ms. Roundtree called large swaths of circumstantial evidence into question — noting in particular that Crump was about five inches and 50 pounds smaller than the man whom witnesses described and that a murder weapon had never been found.

In 1977 she helped win an acquittal for John Wesley Griffin, who was accused of joining other members of the Nation of Islam in the slaying of seven members of a rival group, the Hanafi Muslims. The murders helped spur the March 1977 takeover of several downtown Washington buildings by 12 Hanafis, who demanded that the convicted killers be turned over to them for further punishment.

Over the decades, Ms. Roundtree shifted the focus of her work from criminal to family law. She had no children but over the course of her life cared for many children in her home, including a goddaughter, Charlene Pritchett-Stevenson, whom she considered a daughter. She also admitted that she sometimes approached her clients in a motherly manner.

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