Tribute to J. L. Chestnut, Jr.
(16 December 1930 – 30 September 2008)
By Dorothy M. Haith
Attorney Chestnut left us three words: “We need to unshackle our minds and rise above the limits others impose on us and the limitations we impose on ourselves.”
Alabamians should be proud of Attorney J. L. Chestnut, Jr., the first African American attorney whose experiences in the line of fairness, justice and humanness exuded into a community, a state, and a nation. Attorney Chestnut attended Knox Academy and Talladega College, but graduated from Dillard University, later receiving his law degree from Howard University in 1958. Returning to his native home, Selma, to practice his trade, he built it from a one-man business to a multifaceted entrepreneurship called Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders, Pettaway & Campbell.
He was a descendant of slaves who used his intelligence to better humans throughout the universe with humor, fair play, justice and hope.
African Americans will forever be indebted to Attorney Chestnut. There is no way African Americans could live today as they do. He assisted, and in many instances, led the way to eliminate some of the Jim Crow, segregation discrimination, scorn, and hatred. He was a seed that brought forth good fruit, Mayors, governors, council members, educators, and other local, state and national representatives.
Attorney Chestnut was a man of all seasons. Where there was darkness, he brought light; where there was ignorance, he brought knowledge; where there was insecurity, he brought understanding; where there was dishonesty, he brought trust; where there was skepticism, he brought hope; and where there was hatred, he brought love. He brought awareness and implementation into reality, creating a better community, state, nation and world for all humans.
He was a family man, staying with his Vivian for over 50 years, and raising and educating his children: Ronnie, Gregory, Rosalind, Geraldine, Terry, and Vivian.
He was a loyal friend and bridge-builder, creating human relations of all people, seeing that all carried their weight and responsibility.
He was his brother’s keeper, assisting African American farmers in receiving their fair share of federal subsidies, loans, and other benefits, under federal law. Even today, 2008, African American farmers are requesting over three million dollars denied them because of deliberate oversight.
He was prophetic and spiritualistic, patient and strategic. He identified problems and became a part of their solution.
His emphases on voting and representation stayed on a pedestal. He kept them there all of his life.
His deeds are recorded in the book of life. Everything is temporary. He finished the course – Free At Last!
He promised African Americans thusly: “I am not worried … I know that when black people finally decide to get up, when black people finally decide to reach up, when black people finally decide to see up, when black people finally decide to move up, we can make mountains move, rivers stand still, trees tremble, angels sing, and devils cry!” Let it be.
Dorothhy M. Haith
P.O. Box 1366
Perry, Georgia 31069