Sometimes a moment is so much bigger than you are.
In June 2007, I was sitting a few pews back in Federal Judge Henry Wingate’s walnut-paneled courtroom on the second floor of the James O. Eastland Federal Courthouse in downtown Jackson. As I listened, almost holding my breath, Kathy Nester, the defense attorney for James Ford Seale, argued vehemently that the jury should not be allowed to see a story I’d written detailing journals from 1964. During the week-long trial, Nester—who happened to be a friend of mine on all days other than those—also fought to keep my other reported narratives about the Ku Klux Klan murders of Charles Moore and Henry Dee out of the record.
I knew Kathy was doing her job, trying to give Seale a fair trial, but I was doing mine, too, and I had told those stories to help bring justice for those murders oh-so-belatedly. I also wanted to talk back, through the power of story, to people who said old Klan murderers are too old to bother with. I wanted to prove that native Mississippians, like Kate and me, craved justice and humanity and empathy enough to work really hard to make it happen. As I sat on the pews listening, or when I went up and down in the elevator, I knew it was out of my hands, but I prayed my stories would help those jurors and anyone paying attention truly feel what had happened to those families and how horribly wrong it was.
I was so focused on those outcomes that I could barely look at Kathy on one ride up in the elevator.
“So,” she said, clearly respecting the moment, “we’ll have to have a martini some day after the trial is over.”
I could barely answer. “Harumph,” I believe I managed to get out. I know she understood, even as she was a professional doing her job, too.