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February 6, 1990, Tuesday, City Edition
SECTION: TAMPA; Guest column; Pg. 2
DISTRIBUTION: TAMPA; BRANDON TIMES
LENGTH: 833 words
Bombs ended two men's unselfish fight for justice
BYLINE: Charles A. Felton
Shortly before Christmas, Federal Judge Robert Vance of the U.S. Court of Appeals received a package in his affluent, suburban Birmingham home. As he opened the package, his body was torn apart by a powerful pipe bomb. His wife also was injured in the blast. Two days later, Robert Robinson, an alderman and prominent Savannah, Ga., lawyer, was killed when a similar package exploded in his face at the Savannah headquarters of the NAACP. Two additional bombs, which apparently were related to these two incidents, were mailed to the Jacksonville office of the NAACP and to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. However, they were detected before they could be detonated.
Vance recently had written a blistering reversal of the Florida ruling that would have signaled a mandatory end to school busing to hundreds of schools throughout the South. In the past several years, Vance also had rendered unfavorable rulings against the Ku Klux Klan that awarded monetary damages to civil rights marchers. Robinson served as one of the NAACP's legal counsels who worked on appeals and other matters related to segregation practices within the Savannah school system.
These two courageous men, apparently unknown to each other, were professionally linked in the continuing struggle for equality and justice for blacks.
Vance was white and described as a brilliant legal mind. It would have been easy for him to quietly accept a position in southern aristocracy and forsake his conscience on matters that would promote racial harmony and justice. But he chose to fairly administer the law that he had sworn to uphold.
Robinson easily could have settled into a lifestyle of "black bourgeoisie." However, he chose to use his prominence and brilliance to further educational goals of disadvantaged minority youth. Robinson obviously saw that illiteracy, unemployment and the failure of many black youths to compete successfully in a highly technical society were a result of disparities within our educational system and used his legal training and experience to remedy this situation.
The U.S. system of justice may be imperfect, but as far as I know it's the best we have. Robinson realized this and sought to exercise his right as a U.S. citizen to call upon the law of the land to correct shortcomings in our educational system. This was certainly a proper thing to do. Robinson did not seek justice on the streets by rioting or other means of violent behavior. He did not seek a remedy to his complaint as a sniper through the telescope sights of a high-powered rifle. And, of course, he did not resort to the treachery of sending pipe bombs through the mail to kill innocent people in the sanctuary of their homes.
Likewise, when Vance answered the call to be a federal judge he did so with a clear understanding that he had a responsibility to his country to make our judicial system work. I am certain that Vance realized that unless the law was applied fairly and equally, then within a short time our society would be inundated with terrorism, violence and anarchy. The truth of the matter is that if Vance rendered a decision against school desegregation, I would not have respected him any less. I may have disagreed with him, but at least he had the decency to use our justice system to settle disagreements.
Unfortunately, everyone did not think as Robinson and Vance did, and as a result of their convictions, both of these fine men met with dastardly and untimely deaths.
Thousands of years ago, a voice cried from the heavens saying, "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?"
The Prophet Isaiah then said, "Here am I, send me." I believe that this same voice echoed throughout the ages seeking men and women of goodwill who had the courage to bring about a better understanding of people of all races and nationalities.
I believe that Vance and Robinson were moved by the eternal voice and gave themselves unselfishly to making this a better world.
I don't know how others feel, but I am eternally grateful to them for having the courage of their convictions and their unselfish commitment to justice, decency and fair play.
Charles A. Felton of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department is the director of the Detention and Corrections Bureau.
Anyone interested in submitting a guest column for Tampa and Brandon Times should contact Charrie Hazard at Barnett Plaza, Suite 1140, 101 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa 33602.