Five years earlier, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court had found segregation unconstitutional. Dallas School Supt. W.T. White was quoted as saying integration would come — but not for 20 to 25 years.
The same day that column was published, it was announced that Judge William Wayne Justice had died in Austin at age 89. If any one person made Supt. White a poor prophet, it was he.
Token integration was the norm in many Texas public schools until Judge Justice started ruling from his Tyler bench in that and other cases that have since become legal landmarks.
SUCH WAS HIS impact on civil rights and Texas prisons that his death made national news and more: The Guardian in London, England, ran a full obituary.
Texas Monthly magazine once profiled Judge Justice as “the real governor of Texas.”
Writing in the Houston Chronicle, R.G. Ratcliffe and Janet Elliott noted that his decisions not only benefitted blacks, but gave Hispanic children the same rights; his orders also prompted bilingual education in Texas.
Juveniles convicted of crimes were moved from incarceration in work camps to modern rehabilitation facilities at his command, the story pointed out, adding that the most sweeping change of all was the Ruiz prison reform case. Judge Justice’s decision “ended brutal conditions for inmates and prompted a massive building boom that gave Texas one of the largest and most modern incarceration systems in the nation,” the writers said.
IN THE New York Times, Douglas Martin wrote:
“If Judge Justice seemed high-handed, it was partly because he believed that the founding fathers had wanted judges to seize and command the higher ground. Perhaps not surprising, people reacted with hate mail, death threats, ostracism and bumper stickers demanding his impeachment.”
Martin did not overstate the reaction of Tyler, where Wayne Justice took the bench in 1968 on his appointment by President Lyndon B. Johnson
The Austin American-Statesman writer observed:
“All the while, the genteel and courtly judge slept easily at night and always kept his number listed in the public telephone directory in the conservative East Texas town of Tyler, where he served for 30 years before moving to Austin’s federal court in 1998 to be closer to his daughter.”
Judge Justice was born and grew up in Athens, received his law degree from The University of Texas and practiced in Athens until President John F. Kennedy appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Tyler court in 1961.
TODAY TYLER is perhaps no more conservative/Republican that the rest of Texas, but it was in the vanguard of that movement. Wayne Justice attracted no derision as the federal DA, but all that started to change with one of his first decisions from the bench. He struck down Tyler Junior College’s ban on male students wearing long hair.
The Austin newspaper said he recently recalled walking into a Tyler gas station after that decision, reporting:
“The place went silent,” he said, and the old-timers stared into their coffee cups. It was just another daily snub for a man who challenged people’s prejudices. One of the coffee drinkers looked out the window, saw a couple of long-haired young men and said, “They ought to be in the penitentiary.”
The Tyler Morning Telegraph, in a story by Betty Waters, chose not to emphasize the negative reaction of Tylerites (10,000 once signed petitions wanting him impeached), or the social ostracism that he and his wife experienced during their Tyler years.
SHE QUOTED the federal magistrate, Judge Judith Guthrie:
“I know that he made a lot of controversial decisions (and) I thought he was a wonderful human being,” Judge Guthrie said. “All the people I knew in Tyler that had ever met Judge Justice came away saying ‘That is the nicest man I think I’ve ever met.’ He was just a really decent person.”
His whole life as a judge was devoted to doing what the law required, Judge Guthrie said.
She described him as “a very courageous judge and a great man,” kind and thoughtful as well as “so nice.”
Judge Justice’s official biographer, former University of North Texas Prof. Frank Kemerer, said he was “perhaps the single most influential agent for change in 20th-century Texas history.”
That seems an epitaph Judge Justice might approve.
AS ANOTHER Yamboree goes into the ever-lengthening record books, the 72nd one may need an asterisk to denote what a special dispensation it received from the weather gods. It was a grey and gloomy week in a rainy month, right up until Yamboree Thursday.
But Friday morning before the school parade started “patches of blue,” as the British describe that welcome phenomenon, started showing up and the clouds were soon scudding by. The two main Yamboree days turned out to be sunny with temperatures in the upper 60’s — short sleeve weather for hardier souls.
Long lines at the carnival rides Saturday afternoon indicated that Crabtree Amusements had a good Yamboree, despite the slow start.
And the food . . . the food . . . so much food.
BEING ALWAYS up-to-date, the Yamboree has a web page (www.yamboree.com) and leading up to the opening, it included a poll on favorite Yamboree foods. I added my vote to the 23.7 percent that rated sweet potato pie as No. 1. Close runner-up was turkey legs at 23.3 per cent one day last week. Others finishing lower were funnel cake, cotton candy and various other standys such as hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecue.
We’ve not quite caught up to the State Fair in Dallas, which this year introduced fried butter. But I did notice one of the stands across from the Mirror office was selling fried twinkies.
The homecoming aspect of the Yamboree was, as always, much in evidence. Some visiting former Buckeyes I talked to Saturday said it made them proud of their hometown to see what a large and well-run operation the Yamboree had become. This was a gratifying but well-deserved reaction, I thought.
As I said in response, the 50 members of the Yamboree board of directors and their associated committee members divide up the volunteer responsibilities so effectively that the festival runs like a well-oiled machine.
Congratulaitons to Queen Lindsey Donaho and President Steve Murry on behalf of all those who made it happen for the 72nd time.