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Carl Maxey

a fighting life

Jim Kershner

Publication Year: 2008

Carl Maxey made a name for himself, first as an NCAA championship boxer, and then as eastern Washington State's first prominent black lawyer and renowned civil rights attorney who always fought for the underdog. This is a moving portrait of the man called a “Type-A Gandhi” by the New York Times and whose own personal misfortune only spurred his lifelong, tireless crusade against injustice.

Published by: University of Washington Press

Series: V Ethel Willis White Books

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

Standing in downtown Los Angeles in 1929, a young working woman could find much about the city to celebrate, but also much to condemn. In just fifty years Los Angeles had grown from a small cow town with little infra structure into a city that offered residents and business...

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1. An Orphan's Fire

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pp. 3-17

Carl Maxey once said he wanted to be judged in life the same way he had been judged by referees in the boxing ring: honestly, without prejudice, and based strictly on blows landed. He landed enough blows, both legal and political, for the New York Times to run a tribute to his life headlined...

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2. A Father in Black Robes

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pp. 18-30

As Maxey remembered it, he was just plain tossed out on the street. “I ran around until they caught me after a while,” he said, some sixty years after being evicted from the orphanage. Under some circumstances, Spokane might have had its attractions to a young boy on the loose...

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3. The Count and the Club

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pp. 31-40

One more thing about Father Byrne: He was connected. He made many friends and connections during his years at Gonzaga in the ’20s, so when he told his Gonzaga friends that he had a young man, soon to be a sophomore, who was bright, driven, and who also just happened...

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4. Walking Right into Trouble

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pp. 41-57

Maxey and his classmates graduated into a world at war. Pearl Harbor was bombed in the middle of their senior year, and by graduation day the country’s armed forces were gearing up for a long, arduous ordeal. Maxey and all of his fellow graduates knew that they would take the brunt of it, and in their youthful enthusiasm and naiveté most...

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5. King Carl Wins the Crown

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pp. 58-76

Gonzaga University School of Law in 1948 was not like law school today. It was strictly a night school—a tradition that began when the law school was founded in 1912 and the faculty consisted of volunteer lawyers with daytime practices. Many law students, like Carl, did not have undergraduate degrees. Others were taking undergraduate courses during the...

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6. Eastern Washington's First Black Lawyer

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pp. 77-100

Later in life, Maxey came to believe that his Gonzaga University School of Law class was somehow anointed. He was fond of pointing out how many important judicial positions were filled by his classmates, all the way up to chief justice of the Washington State SupremeCourt...

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7. Stirrings from the South

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pp. 101-107

As America moved through the mid-1950s, the civil rights movement began to stir nationwide. In March of 1956, it touched Spokane in the person of a small but stubborn woman from Montgomery, Alabama. “Woman to Tell of Bus Boycott,” trumpeted...

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8. The Haircut Uproar and a Perfunctory Execution

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pp. 108-119

In 1960, Maxey joined up with Spokane lawyers Leo Fredrickson and Robert Bell to form the law firm of Fredrickson, Maxey, Bell and Allison Inc. This partnership stayed strong for more than two decades. “That was a match made in heaven,” said...

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9. Freedom Summer in the Tail End of America

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pp. 120-129

After the Cauthen case, Maxey was one of the best-known black attorneys in the state.With that came some problems. His son Bill, who turned fourteen in 1963, remembered that the family would occasionally get a phone call at home, “someone spewing some profanity and name-calling and some threats...

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10. "The Sickness of Our Nation"

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pp. 130-150

On the same day in 1964 that the FBI was exhuming the graves of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman in Neshoba County, Mississippi, President Johnson convened the National Security Council to discuss commando attacks against U.S. ships off the coast...

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11. A Right Hook to Scoop Jackson

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pp. 151-161

Maxey’s passionate hatred for the Vietnam War led him to revive his ambitions for elected office,which had lain dormant after being soundly trounced by Kathryn Mautz, now a Spokane County District Court judge...

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12. The Seattle Seven Circus

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pp. 162-180

While Maxey was swinging away at Scoop Jackson, an anti war protest in downtown Seattle was turning violent. This event would lead, nearly a year later, to what Maxey described as a “riotous, disgraceful courtroom...

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13. The Maxey Temper

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pp. 181-208

Maxey remained totally committed all of his life to nonviolence as a way of fomenting social change, yet on a personal level the ex-boxer had a strong fighting streak— which made his forbearance in the Seattle Seven melee all the more remarkable.He had what his colleagues...

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14. Ruth Coe's Greek Tragedy

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pp. 209-222

In 1981, Spokane was making national news for a particularly lurid civic trauma: the arrest and trial of the notorious SouthHill rapist. The SouthHill rapist had been terrorizing the city’s upper-middleclass neighborhoods for years, stalking and raping as many as thirty seven women, often as they jogged...

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15. "No Goddamned Award"

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pp. 223-236

Following the Ruth Coe case,Maxey resembled a unique Northwest cross between Martin LutherKing Jr. and JohnnyCochran— although it’s hard to imagine the flamboyant Cochran, of the O. J. Simpson trial, claiming his favorite book...

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16. "Living through All This B.S."

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pp. 237-241

Through the latter half of the 1980s and into the 1990s, Carl and Lou took more time to travel, visiting Hong Kong, London, and, when there was a championship boxing match, Las Vegas. Yet Maxey found cutting back...

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17. Type-A Gandhi

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pp. 242-248

What if Carl Maxey had never existed at all? Or, what if that little orphan boy had taken the most likely path and lived down to the world’s expectations? The entire region would have been able to continue...

Notes on Sources

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pp. 249-254


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pp. 255-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780295800394
E-ISBN-10: 0295800399
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295988467
Print-ISBN-10: 0295988460

Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: V Ethel Willis White Books

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Boxers (Sports) -- Washington (State) -- Spokane -- Biography.
  • Civil rights workers -- Washington (State) -- Spokane -- Biography.
  • African American lawyers -- Washington (State) -- Spokane -- Biography.
  • Maxey, Carl, 1924-1997.
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