The Prologue recounts the origins of my interest in Ramsey Clark, including two inauspicious early encounters during which I had virtually no idea who he was. As the years passed, I became ever-more intrigued with Clark, spawned largely by a case that I covered in my civil -procedure class in which he served as lead counsel—Saltany v. Reagan, as in President Ronald Reagan, one of the defendants that Clark sued on behalf of Libyan residents. When he volunteered to represent former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, I had to figure out why a former U.S. attorney general would do such a thing, among many other things. I wrote a law review article examining the Hussein representation, and with a nudge from a former colleague and friend of Clark's, I shared it with my subject and soon thereafter embarked on my quest to tell his life story.
This Introduction sets the stage for the book, posing the conundrum that is Ramsey Clark, an enormously important figure in American history who is largely unknown by most. It provides an overview in terms of his immeasurable contributions to society through his service within the Department of Justice during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, highlighting some of the most significant events in which he played pivotal roles, especially in the area of civil rights. The Introduction also notes the seemingly dramatic change that he underwent in his post-DOJ life, taking on causes and clients that almost inevitably appeared to be adverse to the country that he had so loyally served for eight years. Many have sought to understand and explain what happened to Ramsey Clark, if anything, and here I introduce some of the theories proffered by friends, colleagues, and other observers.
With the disclaimer that the book will not go into excruciating, chronological detail concerning Ramsey Clark's family tree and personal history, this chapter proceeds to cover the beginning of Clark's journey, broadly depicting his childhood and early adult years, including service in World War II, college, marriage, law school, children, and law practice in Dallas, Texas. The chapter also examines some defining episodes during those years that foreshadow the direction that his life would take, such as the death of his 6-year-old brother, his father Tom's oversight of the World War II-related internment of Japanese Americans, and Ramsey's perplexing acquisition of a large bust of Adolf Hitler while serving as a Marine courier.
This chapter chronicles Ramsey Clark's transition from private to public life. With the election of President John F. Kennedy, Clark was moved to seek an appointment within the Justice Department. Some strong family-related connections, including with Vice President Lyndon Johnson, helped him secure an appointment as assistant attorney general for the Lands Division. While his noteworthy Lands Division work is touched upon in the chapter, the concentration is on Clark's dedicated involvement in emerging civil rights issues. He acted as a DOJ surrogate throughout the South, ensuring the enforcement of the Supreme Court's desegregation mandate. Clark became known within the DOJ for his willingness to speak his mind, garnering him the nickname "the Preacher." The chapter concludes with the devastating impact upon Clark of the tragic assassination of President Kennedy and his subsequent increased role within the new Johnson administration.
This chapter examines the significant role that Ramsey Clark played in pivotal aspects of the civil rights movement, beginning with his crafting of a memo to Bobby Kennedy that provided much of the initial inspiration and framework for what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He wrote this on the heels of his involvement with the historic admission of James Meredith as the first African American at the University of Mississippi. In addition, the chapter canvasses Clark's important work on behalf of black citizens as the deputy attorney general, including his oversight of the third Selma to Montgomery civil rights march and his extensive involvement in the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
This chapter delves deeply into Clark's transformative role as chair of the President's task force that investigated the Watts riots, which were triggered by a combative police arrest in the black community. As the chapter's title conveys, Clark took the rioters seriously, and he compassionately sought to understand what had led to the dramatic civil unrest. By listening, Clark came to profoundly comprehend the frustrations and hopelessness felt by African Americans, and he communicated this in a hard-hitting report to the president—so unashamedly truthful, in fact, that it was not released to the public. The chapter reveals that this was a defining experience for Clark, one that likely colored virtually everything Clark did thereafter. In addition, the chapter recounts his elevation to attorney general, a role in which he would controversially continue to deal with urban rioting in the same empathetic way.
This chapter examines the profound influence that Martin Luther King, Jr. had on Ramsey Clark. The focus is on the labor strike by black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, inspired by the slavelike treatment they received as employees of the city. Dr. King had already announced his Poor People's Campaign, which was designed to shed a revealing light on the intense poverty problem in America. The Memphis strike—with its simple, but unforgettable slogan "I Am a Man"—embodied the poverty issue. It captured Dr. King's attention. Unfortunately, his involvement provided the setting for King's assassination on April 4, 1968. Attorney General Clark was the first federal official on the scene and led the international manhunt to capture King's assassin. The chapter demonstrates how Dr. King's example helped shape Clark's views on society. In many respects, he would subsequently carry the mantle that Dr. King hoisted throughout his life.
This chapter focuses on the widespread protests that emerged in opposition to America's involvement in the Vietnam War, particularly in the form of draft-eligible men refusing induction into the military, either on their own accord or at the urging of others. President Johnson was obsessed with the war, believing that defeat would forever tarnish his noteworthy civil rights legacy. As such, he took great offense to those who actively opposed the war effort, and he placed intense pressure on Clark to put an end to the draft-dodging and related demonstrations through criminal prosecution. The chapter examines and seeks to explain two instances of Clark's actions in response that were perplexingly inconsistent: his refusal to indict Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael and, in contrast, his decision to prosecute antiwar proponent and noted pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock and the other members of the so-called Boston Five.
This chapter reveals the palpable tension between President Johnson and his independent attorney general. Clark was so committed to his values that he was willing to defy the president if he thought that was the right thing to do. The chapter examines significant examples of this dynamic, including Clark's stalling of a controversial judicial appointment that upset the close relationship between Johnson and Georgia Senator Richard Russell. The chapter also recounts Clark's defiance of President Johnson and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley in connection with the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Clark was intent on protecting the anti–Vietnam War protesters, much to Johnson and Daley's dismay. The chapter recounts the intense police–protester clash that ensued and the resulting criminal prosecution of the so-called Chicago Seven. It also notes Clark's principle-based filing of various lawsuits, notwithstanding Johnson's directive that no new, long-term projects be undertaken after Nixon's election.
This chapter picks up with Clark's departure from the Justice Department and chronicles his developing penchant for undertaking seemingly anti-American causes. Most notably, the chapter details Clark's opposition to the Vietnam War, which, besides promoting complete amnesty for draft evaders, also included a controversial visit to North Vietnam to test firsthand the accuracy of his government's positive portrayal of its war effort. Clark determined the "truth" to be otherwise, and he publicly revealed what he witnessed and demanded an end to the "unjust" war. Related to this, the chapter likewise examines Clark's representation of various antiwar advocates and his growing stature as a leader in the international antiwar movement. Furthermore, the chapter recounts Clark's unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaigns, plus his representations of Frank Serpico and one of the Attica Brothers.
This chapter observes that Ramsey Clark was involved in a number of highly notable matters following his departure from the DOJ and tells the story of one of his most intriguing cases, the defense of Ruchell Magee. The prosecution of Magee, who is African American, emanated from an armed courtroom seizure of hostages and resulting shooting deaths of various individuals, including a trial judge. The controversial racial component of the case, combined with the unjust nature of the justice system that shackled Magee throughout virtually his entire life, are used to highlight Clark's concern for and appreciation of black people. In a similar vein, the chapter recounts Clark's oversight of the investigation into the police-sanctioned murders of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, and it elaborates on Clark's unique predisposition to view the black race as beautiful.
This chapter explores the theory of some Clark critics that he is anti-Semitic. It delves into his controversial representations of reputed Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas and Jack Reimer, as well as his longstanding association with and representation of the PLO, including his defense of the organization in the infamous lawsuit stemming from the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled American Jew, by Palestinian terrorists. Apart from Clark's participation in these matters, he has also taken some controversial supportive positions that seem to go beyond what one would expect in a pure attorney–client relationship. The chapter analyzes and questions the claims of anti-Semitism after discussing details of some of Clark's contentious associations. In this regard, it casts doubt on the pejorative label by examining parallels between similar affiliations, such as his representation of the Branch Davidians and his involvement with other demonized individuals and groups.
This chapter centers around what has to be Clark's most controversial representation—that of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The chapter examines why Clark would choose to defend Hussein and tests the widely held view that this particular client choice confirms that Clark is simply unpatriotic and anti-American. As the chapter reveals, Clark has represented a number of international clients and causes that could be characterized as siding with America's enemy, including inserting himself into the 1980 Iran hostage crisis and suing President Ronald Reagan, among others, on behalf of a number of Libyan residents in the aftermath of the U.S.-led bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi. Most notably, Clark installed himself as counsel for notorious Rwandan Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic. The chapter suggests that Clark's motivations for representing these individuals are far more complex than most believe.
This chapter delves more deeply into Ramsey Clark's personal qualities, especially his unassuming nature and utter lack of concern with the accumulation of wealth. It begins by exploring the extraordinarily close relationship between Clark and his wife Georgia, and it emphasizes the enormous contribution that she made in her own right, as well as to her husband's ambitions. She was a remarkable woman, and without her, much of what Clark accomplished would not have been possible. The chapter also recounts a very revealing episode regarding Clark's law school classmate and dear friend George Anastaplo. Most importantly, the chapter examines Clark's relationship with his daughter Ronda and the pivotal effect that she undeniably has had upon her father. His empathy for and love of people who are less fortunate most assuredly was inspired, at least in part, by lessons that Clark learned from his daughter.
This chapter compares and contrasts Ramsey Clark with his equally famous father Tom Clark. Tom and Ramsey are the only father and son to have held the post of U.S. attorney general, which turns out to be but one of a number of telling similarities between the two men. Tom, who would culminate his career in public service as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, was viewed as politically conservative. As such, most would presume that he could not have been more different than his ultra-liberal son. The chapter reveals the fallacy of this assumption by chronicling examples where their social views coincided—most significantly, in the area of civil rights. To be sure, Tom and Ramsey were different in many respects, and the chapter addresses these distinctions. It also explores the nature of their somewhat complex father–son relationship, as well as the internal dynamics of their respective families.
The Conclusion reflects on the entirety of Ramsey Clark's life journey, focusing on his 90th birthday celebration and the screening of a documentary about him by filmmaker Joseph Stillman titled "Citizen Clark . . . A Life of Principle." The chapter emphasizes the enormous complexity and contradictory nature of Clark's life, which have led some to view him as heroic and unfailingly goodhearted and others to conclude that he is unpatriotic and evil. Most, however, are completely unfamiliar with him, oblivious to the critical role he played in countless historical episodes. He is a true enigma—a nonviolent, fearless, self-deprecating defender of those whom society has been conditioned to recognize as enemies. There is simply no way to reconcile all of the incongruities in his life journey, and this is what makes Clark so fascinating and why it is essential for the world to know his story.