Going Home to A Familiar Place
I begin the preamble of my memoir, Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance with a quote from Tom Wolfe’s character, Captain Charlie, in A Man in Full. Tom Wolfe visited Atlanta in the late 1990s to research his novel about Southern power and privilege and a Freaknik lawyer.
Tom Wolf interviewed more than 100 people in Atlanta for background material. He did not come by The Harvey Law Firm to talk to me. The fictitious Freaknik Lawyer in A Man in Full is not remotely close to the real man.
Tom Wolfe’s omission to talk with me is another example of the power of white privilege operating in the South and throughout the world. The only way to explain this lapse is that Tom Wolfe did not want to hear the Black perspective on race and privilege in Atlanta. Had he spoken to me; I would have been obliged to bear witness to the truth.
My role in the history of the last 50 years has gone largely ignored. Being ignored is the chief reason I wrote Freaknik Lawyer. I wanted to bear witness to the life I have lived and the events I have seen unfold in the last half of the 20th century.
Now that the tome is on the streets, I look to the words of another Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe, who penned the novel You Can’t Go Home Again. George Webber, the protagonist in Thomas Wolfe’s book, wrote about family and friends from his hometown, only to be stunned by the backlash he received from his townsfolk who saw their truths exposed for all the world to see. Webber moves to New York to escape the harsh disapproval of the people he held closest to his heart. For years, he believed he could not go home again. After an excursion to Paris and Berlin during the rise of Hitler, Webber returned to face his hometown. He found love, hatred, and redemption; alas, he was home again.
In 1980 I left Macon, Georgia after a political defeat. I thought I would never return, then in 1984, I finished law school and thought I would return home.
I ran for State Representative again against a popular incumbent. I drew backlash from the Black community for entering this race. The white power structure in the town was pleased with the service from the incumbent. Shunned by the media came as no surprise.
Often asked hostile questions designed to make me appear to be an angry and confused Black man.
I lost the political contest.
On the night of the election, a white female reporter from The Macon Telegraph (The Telegraph) called my campaign headquarters. She made it a point to begin the interview with: “You lost.”
“Yes,” I graciously said through the disappointment of defeat, “I lost.”
“Now, are you going to leave town,” she queried with malice in her voice.
“I’ll tell you what I am going to do, I am going to get busy supporting my family,” I began before I was interrupted by the reporter.
“Cause no one likes you here,” she came in for the kill.
Sensing I could not go home again, I set up my law practice on Peachtree Street in the heart of the Atlanta business district.
After leaving the practice of law, I began to write. My first published book, a novel titled Paper Puzzle, uncovered some hidden local secrets further pushing me away from my hometown. The Telegraph would not post a review, because, I suspect, the daily newspaper in the novel resembled the physical layout of its old newsroom at 120 Broadway.
Now, with the publication of Freaknik Lawyer, never told stories of personalities and events to open local history for new perspectives. For many years, I have felt like Webber, that I “Can’t Go Home Again.”
Returning home to launch Freaknik Lawyer at the historic Douglass Theatre, I am reminded of another great literary work, this one by a fellow Tuskegeean, Albert Murray, South to A Very Old Place.
Murray, raised in Mobile, Alabama and educated at Tuskegee Institute, left the South after graduating from Tuskegee in 1939. He lived to be 97 years old but did not return to the South until very late in his life.
A few years ago, I attended the enshrinement of his ashes at the cemetery on Tuskegee’s campus. Murray had finally come home to “a very old place.” During the ceremony, I wondered, if, like Murray, I could defy Thomas Wolfe’s declaration that “you can’t go home again.”
Launching my memoir at Macon’s historic Douglass Theatre, I am coming home to face whatever reaction home has for her native son, once banished for his political and literary acts of courage.
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org