National News

Honoring the life of 'the people’s attorney'

By James G. Muhammad -Contributing Editor- | Last updated: Jun 19, 2018 - 11:13:32 AM

What's your opinion on this article?

(L-R) Atty. Janette Wilson, Dr. Carol Adams, Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Atty. Andre Grant Photos: Haroon Rajaee

(L-R) Atty. Berve Muhammad, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Father Michael Pfleger

“Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:9

CHICAGO—A testimony of the impact of attorney Lewis Myers Jr. was demonstrated in the breadth of the community at his recent memorial service at Christ Universal Church on the city’s far south side.

From the streets to the suites, all who attended the near three-hour service expressed gratitude.

“Lew ranks at the top,” said funeral director Spencer Leak Sr., expressing an oft repeated compliment of Mr. Myers. “He wasn’t looking for money. It was always about what he could do to help people.”

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor emeritus of United Church of Christ, spoke of the attorney’s ability to break down barriers at the June 9 memorial: “Jesus was trying to get church folk to see what Lew Myers lived. He (Myers) lived my mantra, that you don’t change who you are because of where you are.”

Atty. Myers, 70, died May 24 following complications from heart surgery. His life of activism ignited in high school where he was elected NAACP Youth Council president and led a student demonstration that forced the Houston school district to comply with federal integration decisions.

Mr. Myers graduated from Howard University and received his law degree from the University of Mississippi. He filed the historic Ayers v. Mississippi case that helped desegregate colleges and universities and worked on such noted cases for Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, Assata Shakur and the Gangster Disciples.

He also served as Nation of Islam and Rainbow PUSH general counsel, establishing endearing relationships with the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.


Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity prepare to sing during memorial services for their brother and fraternity member, Lewis Myers Jr. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

“He sought to take the blindfold off  Lady Justice so she could see the imbalance,” said Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church.

Perhaps the two most impacted by Attorney Myers were Andre Grant and Berve Power (now Muhammad). In 1998, the two young attorneys were thrust into the spotlight with Mr. Myers and other seasoned attorneys when they defended seven- and eight-year-old boys falsely charged with the rape and murder of 11-year-old Ryan Harris. An adult later was convicted of the crime.

Mr. Grant said he saw in attorney Myers the role model he had been seeking.

“An African proverb says when the student is ready the teacher will appear. I said, ‘that’s him. That’s the kind of lawyer I want to be,’” he recalled.

Because Mr. Myers rarely stressed the importance to be paid by his clients, Mr. Grant said he would often “play the heavy” in requesting payment. Once Mr. Myers chided him for accepting a dollar for payment from a woman who had little money, he said to laughter. “Half of y’all in this audience know you owe Lew Myers money,” he said.

Attorney Berve Muhammad gave the eulogy on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan who was unable to attend. The young attorney, who now is Nation of Islam national secretary, titled his testimony to his mentor in the law, “But God gives the increase.”

Attorney Muhammad said he was mentally prepared to meet Lew Myer’s by the “first strong lawyer” that he saw, his uncle attorney Robert C. Power, who opened the first Black-owned law office in downtown Chicago in 1950.

Atty. Myers (center) with Minister Farrakhan and Rev. Jackson.
He recalled a story of how Mr. Myers once stood security for Min. Farrakhan in the early ‘70s while he lectured at the University of Mississippi. With threats from the Ku Klux Klan, Mr. Myers held a Bible with a pistol in its cut out pages, ready for anything that might break out while the Minister taught, he said.

Berve Muhammad’s first full time job as a lawyer was as Mr. Myers’ driver, a job he held for four years. Describing Mr. Myers’ unorthodoxed style, he said, “One thing Lew Myers was not, was an advanced planner,” he said.

He told of often being given assignments for court “in the fourth quarter” and how Mr. Myers at times did not review documents for important cases the young attorney had prepared.

After winning several cases, Mr. Muhammad said attorney Myers asked him to represent his son in a felony case. Attorney Muhammad said Mr. Myers never asked him about his strategy or the witnesses he planned to call. After the case, he called Mr. Myers with the verdict: Not guilty on all charges.

Attorney Muhammad told of cases he lost despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. One was a case where a Black man died in police custody in Markham, Illinois. Despite numerous courtroom rulings in his favor during the course of the trial, the jury still acquitted the cops, he said.

Another was the recent trial in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Nation of Islam Minister Robert Muhammad died of drowning under mysterious circumstances while with seven White co-workers. Min. Farrakhan wanted to know the truth of what happened, he said. At one point, there were nine lawyers on the other side “and the judge was the 10th,” he said.

The case was thrown out and is under appeal; however, attorney Muhammad and other lawyers and law firms are being sued for $1.1 million in fees and expenses for the other side, as allowed under Michigan law.

Left to right: Attorney Abdul Arif Muhammad, Nation of Islam general counsel; Atty. Lew Myers, Atty. Ava Muhammad, national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam and Min. Farrakhan, and Atty. Barbara Muhammad.
“But check my spirit. Do I look like I’m concerned about a $1.1 million judgement? There were others who paid a price before us so we can stand here as judges, as lawyers, as politicians.

“That’s the uphill road you have to travel if you’re fighting for Black people. When you’re in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality, you can make the case … but it doesn’t mean you will prevail in the end,” he said.

“Attorney Lew Myers taught me how to stare down giants and not bend. We don’t honor his legacy if we’re scared to fight because the odds are against us,” he said.

‘Lew knew why doves cry’

Former Gangster Disciple “enforcer” now activist and “urban translator” Wallace “Gator” Bradley credited the famed attorney with helping to get a Black federal judge appointed.

He told Mr. Myers that it was within then-Senator Carol Mosley Braun’s power to recommend a Black judge to the federal court. Mr. Myers and then-NAACP president Ben Chavis brought the idea to Sen. Braun who made the recommendation to President Clinton. Blanche Manning was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

“That meant that I, as an individual that once had to stand before a judge and seek their mercy, God blessed me to help someone become a merciful judge. Lew was that connecting force,” he told The Final Call.

A host of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity members celebrated their departed brother, describing new organizing skills the young Myers brought to school organizations—developing sit in, marching and security committees.

Rev. Courtney Carson of the Decatur 7 described officials of the small southern Illinois town who charged a group of high school boys with felonies for a 17-second fight during a school football game. Attorney Myers defended them and won.

“They had the perfect recipe for the school-to-prison pipeline. Because of Lew Myers’ efforts, I was able to get my GED. Because of his efforts, I was able to graduate college with my Masters’ and Bachelors’ degree. Because of his efforts I decided to run for the same school board that expelled me,” Rev. Carson said.

In the mid ‘70s, Akbar Muhammad, international representative of the Nation of Islam, traveled to a summit of the Organization of African Unity that he said further cemented attorney Myers’ commitment to the Black struggle. Min. Akbar Muhammad praised Mr. Myers for coming to the Minister’s side despite intense criticism.

“Lew took a principled stand because the movement meant that much to him and he recognized the strength of Minister Farrakhan’s voice to galvanize the brothers and sisters in the liberations struggle,” he said.

Attorney Janette Wilson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition moderated the service. Many in the audience noted the occasion when attorney Myers stepped down as deputy director of the NAACP due to media fueled controversies that arose when the organization organized an African American Summit that included Min. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.

“As head of the NAACP, there wasn’t but one man alive that I wanted to be my deputy director. The first thing we recognized is that the NAACP couldn’t do its job alone,” said Rev. Ben Chavis, now executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

“Lew and I and our families received death threats because we dared to meet with Black organizations,” he said.

“Lew knew why the caged bird sings. Tell (the artist) Prince that Lew knew why doves cry. He knew why widows weep,” Attorney Thomas “TNT” Todd told the audience. “That’s why he spent his living working for freedom and justice that his living not be in vain.”  Friends, family and admirers also gathered in Houston, Texas, birthplace of attorney Myers for another memorial service held June 15.