Longtime director of Winston-Salem Legal Aid office.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:||Jul 23, 1991|
|Where relates to:||North Carolina|
|Topics:||Civil legal aid: General|
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
Interview with Thorns Craven
Interviewer: Dick Taylor
Interview Date: July 23, 1991
Transcriber: Virginia Dodge
TAYLOR: — the interview of Thorns Craven, and it’s taken on July the 23rd at the Don CeSar at St. Petersburg Beach. And Dick Taylor is conducting the interview. The topic of the interview is early project directors. And Thorns, before we start talking about the topic, could you tell us a little bit about your background before you became involved with legal aid work?
CRAVEN: I didn’t know we were going to go back that far. I was — I grew up in North Carolina in a small town, went to college in Virginia, was in the Army because in — when I graduated from college in 1958, you either got drafted or you volunteered for the service. I volunteered in order to get a better deal. The Army would contract with you, and my contract was to send me to Europe. So I spent three years in the Army in Germany. And it was — probably like a lot of other people at the time, the Army was a postponement of the decision of what am I going to do when I get out of college. It’s — it’s actually interesting. When I was in the Army and in Germany, I read an article in Time magazine about the Saturday Lawyers Program in Atlanta Legal Aid. And a classmate of mine at Washington and Lee, Bill Ide, was the featured individual in that article. He had just won a $25,000 judgment for a client that he had voluntarily represented as part of this program in Atlanta. And that, I think, is my first knowledge of legal services for poor people. And the article was a description of a new — the establishment of OEO legal services. And the fact that in some cities, programs already existed, but in most of the country, they didn’t. I got out of the Army in 1965. I went, started law school in Chapel Hill in 1966 and graduated in ’69. And the only jobs that I sought as a lawyer were in legal services programs. And they were all in North Carolina. There were only three at the time. One was in Charlotte, one was in Durham, and one was in Winston-Salem. And I had grown up 20 miles from Charlotte, and I didn’t want to work there. The program in Durham was still pretty heavily influenced by the Duke Law School, and it wasn’t a seriously organized program. It was — it was really the product of one individual’s energy, a fellow named George Cochran, who had been a Supreme Court clerk and was active in lots of things. But it didn’t have community support. Winston-Salem had the largest program, had the most ambitious offering, and it was in a place that I hadn’t lived, and it seemed to be most attractive, so I went there. It’s a — it’s a story that is too long for this account, but I think there were five new lawyers hired in September of 1969. And I was one of those. We joined four more lawyers. By the end of 1969, four of those lawyers were gone or five. Some had been fired. Some had left because of just — it was chaos. The director was fired in February for very good reasons. The staff — as a matter of fact, the remaining staff attorneys had given the board an ultimatum that if they didn’t discharge the director, all the four remaining staff attorneys would leave. That happened. Within two months, the other — two of the four staff attorneys had left. And I was offered the job of director and had — when I accepted it, the other lawyer, who I called the directee — and the two of us had 2,000 open cases in this — sort of the wreckage of eight or nine months of just complete chaos. And from then to now, that’s about 21 years. And a lot has happened since then, all of which was better than the first nine months. The worst day after that was not as — was better than the best day before that.
TAYLOR: Some of the early questions that I was going to ask you related to where and how you became involved in legal aid, and you’ve just covered that. But what about motivation? Why — was legal aid where you applied, and why did you take that challenge of the director’s job under those circumstances?
CRAVEN: I think the — I mean, I have to give maybe not personally Bill Ide a lot of credit, but the fact that there was a program that had the publicity that put that in my head to say, well, there’s something that you can do as a lawyer. That had never — that had not occurred in my life experience. My father’s a doctor in a small town, and I grew up, I think like a lot of — of sons of small-town professionals, with some notion of a responsibility to do things for others but not knowing particularly what form that took or that that could take. And I think the — the knowledge that there was a professionally organized and — and developed network of legal services programs gave some shape to that. I think that my experience in the Army was extremely critical. I was in the intelligence corps. I did lots of background investigations for security clearances and as a result was involved in investigations of people who generally didn’t have a great deal of sophistication about the system that they might be caught up in. They didn’t have any notion that they had rights. And I saw the — I saw their positions and their personalities abused by the official avoidance of their rights. And I found myself in a position on several occasions to protect people by using systematic safeguards against the system. And that was very satisfying, to be able to do that. To be — to have the judgment or the intelligence or the education or whatever to recognize that the system had procedural or factual or whatever the circumstances required, it had ways to protect an individual from being taken advantage of. And I was able to use those. And I think I translated that into the opportunity to become a lawyer in this context. And I think the second part of why North Carolina was that I grew up in North Carolina, and I saw people — I think this was in the whole — the mid-’60s, late ’60s, and the resentment and the ability of people who should have known better to deflect progressive change by blaming outsiders and saying, well, this is not what local people want. This is not what local people would — would do. And I think that like an awful lot of local people, I knew that that was wrong, but that it was going to take local people taking local positions of responsibility to do something about it, that it was not — it was not going to make a difference as quickly in Southern states to bring better circumstances for poor people and for minorities and for people who needed legal assistance to leave those jobs and particularly the management, the development of those positions, to people who didn’t have credibility locally. And that’s not to say that people couldn’t move into towns from outside the region or outside the state and develop it, but I think it was — it was certainly an easier task for me to accomplish, having grown up in the area and — and having a feel for the kinds of things that I could call on in local bar leaders or local civic leaders or — or the people that I think legal services has to have as allies, not necessarily across the board, but organizationally and institutionally in order to thrive. So that’s what —
TAYLOR: Your — the main topic of this interview is your peers as project directors and particularly those in the earlier part of our — of our program. What is your kind of — what was your impression of the people who were your peers as directors of legal services programs when you first began to fill that role?
CRAVEN: Well, it’s — it would be an awful lot of fun to have a reunion of all those people because I think that there was such an enormous amount of — of — of growth and learning and — both in personal and professional terms, and just plain helpfulness and a — and a clarity of spirit and — and cooperation and — and challenge that was going on with all the programs. In the South, when I started as the project director, there were, I think, 25 or 26 programs. Dan Bradley was the regional director. There was — there was a feeling of — of challenge and productivity that I think was just infectious. And there was also a — that was the whole time when things were shifting nationally from the domination of the very big cities with the long- established legal aid societies into the legal services program. The National Legal Aid & Defenders Association, when I first started going to meetings, I think the first one I went to was in San Antonio or Denver, someplace like that, there were still large numbers, a large percentage of people, who were older bar leaders. It was — it was — clearly the — one of the steppingstones to the leadership positions in the American Bar Association was to be president of the National Legal Aid & Defenders Association. And there was a cultural clash between the new project directors and staff attorneys who were — who were actively engaged in shaking up those organizations or starting rival organizations and those people. And — and there was a sort of a secondary clash between all the programs like Winston-Salem and Charlotte and Knoxville and Birmingham against the programs in Atlanta and Miami and New York and Philadelphia and San Francisco that had dominated the development in the first three or four, five years at OEO. So I have a very vivid memory of the — probably my second NLADA meeting or third in Miami, which all the — all the programs in the South really sort of took over in the sense of saying we’re — we’re going to elect people to the board of NLADA. I think that’s when Action for Legal Rights became more diverse around the country, and Action for Legal Rights was the predecessor organization to the project advisory group. So there was a — there was a great deal of energy in — in the project directors that I knew in the — in the early ’70s in their local communities because they were building something that was really struggling to find an identity that was independent of board domination and control, shifting it to client service and, in many ways, to client involvement in I think the ways that we’ve always aspired to, but for the first time were really getting into. But I think the real energy was in the staffs. The staffs had changed from — from older people who were looking for a safe haven to practice in a fairly conventional manner to a group of younger practitioners, some of them very energetic and very smart and some not very skilled but enthusiastic but eager to learn and eager to make a mark on what they were doing. And the project directors were often former — just had been lawyers like me for less than a year. And they were thrust into positions where they said we’ve got to recruit lawyers. We’ve got to sort of make sure that they do good legal work, but we don’t necessarily even know what that is. And we’ve got to maintain our political connections with the people who fund us. And we’ve got to find people like us so that we can say, God, this is — this is how — this is how we can improve. So there was this real spirit of cooperation. I think probably the first project director I remember meeting was Michael Terry, who was a director in Atlanta. And I met him at a conference on housing in New Orleans. And that’s the famous conference where the welfare mothers of New Orleans locked everybody in the Desire Community gym, and they had been stiffed on a — I guess they stiffed us first on lunch, and then somebody didn’t pay the check. And so they brought in some people that were very persuasive, and the whole conference disintegrated. But that’s — again, that’s another tape. But Michael was a — was a guy who was building a program with a lot of energetic young lawyers who were very good, who’d been to good law schools, who’d had good instruction, who had good connections with the — with the legal education community. And he was anxious not only to build Atlanta Legal Aid, but to assist other programs. And within a year or two of meeting Michael, for instance, he brought his law reform unit to Winston- Salem and helped me and the lawyers on my staff go through our files and see what good files looked like and what bad files looked like and see — and to — and to understand a process for improving the legal work that we were doing and for improving the management of that work and — and setting standards for ourselves because we were inventing all those things. I think — I can remember at the time being very envious of — of lawyers who came out into offices and — and could see someone who was 50 years old who’d been practicing law for 25 years down the hall and go in and ask a question because in our office, if you saw somebody who was — who was 30 years old, like me, I’d been out of law school a year. And yet I was a senior person. And you’d meet somebody at — in Atlanta who was 25 and was — had three years’ experience, and that person was a sage compared to anybody else that you knew. So it was a — it was a sharing kind of attitude, I think, that somebody like Michael who had those experienced people wasn’t saying let’s shut them all up in Atlanta, but let’s — let’s share them. And I think that Dan Bradley had a big influence on things like that because he invited us all to come to Atlanta. And instead of a relationship with a funding source which was wary and exploitive, it was very friendly and supportive. I mean, Dan was somebody who just would say, whatever — “What do you need? What can I get you? Do you know so-and-so? He has what you need, and I’ll call him up. And he’ll come over and see you, or you can go see him.” And that kind of exchange was taking place constantly. And I think it’s probably diminished not only because people have grown up and have learned things and there are more — there are better models and they’re more experienced people, but also because the community’s larger. And you just can’t sustain that kind of energy when you’ve got 120 people the way you can when it’s 25. There’s — there’s — I’ve made a — I made a mental list and I made a written list of some of these early project directors. Michael’s clearly the first person I can remember meeting. Certainly the most memorable person, not necessarily as the project director but as a character. I think if you asked any of us who went to regional meetings from 1970 to 19 — whenever he left, who made the biggest impression on you, there was a man named X. Harter (spelling?). I never knew what X stood for, but it was just the letter X. But he was in Columbia, South Carolina. He was not only a member of the National Legal Aid & Defenders Association, but he was a member of the National Association of Homemade Winemakers. And he would come to every project directors meeting, which we had almost exclusively in Atlanta, almost exclusively in a semi-crummy hotel. And he would bring six bottles of red wine that he had made and six bottles of white wine and his wife. And they were — they were in their 50s or 60s, I’m not sure how old X was at the time, but he seem — he was a lot older than the rest of us. They were a wonderfully romantic Southern couple, just sort of overflowing with hospitality. And at the end of the day when we were having meetings, X would always say — I think he sometimes even handed out written invitations. He would have his room number, and we would all go back. And it was small, that we could go into one room in a crummy hotel and be entertained with this — with this wine, and there’d always be a loaf of bread and a couple of pounds of Virginia ham, and he would cut all these things and pass it around. And it was a very chummy family kind of affair. And everybody would go to dinner, get together the next morning. And I mean, the memories are those. They’re so personal because of the personalities were so distinctive. And people felt free, I think, to exercise their personalities in a way that probably in larger groups that might not be so — so evident. People — I think the people that I recall had a enormous interest in making sure that the South started to make a national presence because of the disparity of funding. You could see the — the resources that were available in a San Francisco area program or a New England program compared to what we might have had because the local organizer just didn’t ask for very much, and see that in the early ’60s, the disparities in funding were not a matter of — of administrative discretion made in Washington. It was a matter of what did the community ask for. And if you only asked for a hundred thousand dollars, you only got a hundred thousand dollars. If you asked for half a million dollars in the same size community, you got a half a million dollars. So I looked around the South, and I don’t think I’ve ever found anybody who asked for a sufficient amount of money. The Southern programs were — were courageous to ask for any money in that period. And so all of us sort of came to the table trying to make do with less. And the people who had learned a technique would share that. George Brown was a — a black director in Memphis. An enormous influence on us, all of us Southern white boys, who were also in our — probably our first multi- racial professional situation and having — I’m sure we all had misunderstandings and difficulties coming to grips with — with our idealism and our — and our — and our inexperience in understanding people with — from different backgrounds. And people like George and his successor was A.C. Wharton. Those two were fabulous resources to us to help us understand that we weren’t all the same, and we didn’t think alike, that we might have the same objectives, but that we didn’t talk the same and we didn’t hear the same and that we had to understand what those differences were. And I can’t — I can’t imagine a situation for anybody of my age and background that could have been more educational and more freely offered than those project directors talking about personal things. And that gets me to, I guess, a fellow named Jerry Becker who was the project director in Knoxville, Tennessee and was also on the law school faculty. That’s the way that program was operated. And Jerry, I think in conjunction with Dan and probably Bucky by then, organized or demanded, I think, the first personal growth session that I think any of us ever encountered. I’m sure that our reflexes mostly were away from management things. I think we all thought — tried to think of ourselves as lawyers first and managers sort of over on the side and — and — and we subscribed or we let ourselves be — be convinced that management was not a significant calling, that it was secondary to practicing law. And I think our program suffered and we suffered as a result because we were — were really demeaning our responsibilities. Jerry — I’m not sure that he did it thoughtfully in the sense of saying, “This is where I want to get,” but he really saw the need that those of us had been project directors five years, if you can imagine. We were — we were a fairly cohesive group, and I think there were 24 people who had been project directors for twenty — for five years in 1976 or 1977. He, along with Bucky, engineered a weeklong session in Jekyll Island, Georgia, at which Reid Whittle, who was a — still is — a topnotch human relations, organizational and development consultant, brought three of his protégés, who were therapeutic workers, people with therapy in their —
CRAVEN: Clinical — clinical psychol — psychology people, who studied work and who studied the way people worked together. But as important as they were to teach us some things, we also had an entire week together on an island in a — in a hotel with a schedule that I think is the only one in my memory that was not driven by what I think of as the legal services Puritanism that demands that you start each day at 7 in the morning with a meeting, have a meeting through breakfast, through lunch and go till 6:30 at night and then have a meeting afterwards to decide what the agenda is tomorrow. This thing actually started probably after breakfast, had a good lunch break and stopped in the middle of the afternoon. And people actually walked on the beach together and went swimming and took walks and played poker and watched the baseball game. And after dinner, instead of meetings, there were sessions with each of these clinical psychologists about work and your — your own personality. So that all of us talked about our marriages, successful and failed, our children, all those kind of things. And we realized as we talked about them for ourselves that we were probably learning something about all the people we worked with for the first time. It was a very powerful experience, I think for all of us. And I can remember that’s where I formed friendship — real friendships, more than just this — this meet once a — once every three months. And started to understand how I was similar and different from Dennis Bricking and John Cromarty and Betty Care(?), the only woman in the — in the — in the region at the time and for a long time, the only woman director, but somebody that thank goodness we had a woman director who would keep us from being the boys club. It — it was a very — I think a very significant moment for legal services because it — it became a model for the rest of the country. I think the — the impact on us as people had a — had such a clear sign to the rest of the country that we — that we improved, that we learned more about what we were doing, that we had a better sense of — of the job of director, that we — that we had a — I think a very significant influence on the development of management as a — an honorable way to — to earn the little bit we did, that that — that that swept through the rest of legal services. And I don’t think those issues ever even come up anymore. If they do, they’re — that’s such a minority view, that somehow managers aren’t important and knowing something about management is not important. But I think that that really — that event was — was critical. And Jerry Becker — I think I — as I think Bucky ascribed it at the time to his — his personal midlife crisis. He just said what in the hell am I going to — I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this five years, and I’ve got to — I’ve got to learn something about this. So that again individually but I think also collectively, I think that’s where we were — we were struggling to — to come to a satisfactory resolution of the tension that we had experienced by saying we really are giving up being lawyers in order to be project directors. And — and we can’t be project directors by being lawyers, which is not to say that there haven’t been some successful — it’s hard to say what it would be, but there have been people who are successful lawyers simultaneous with being successful project directors. There also are people, I think, who were disastrous project directors because they continued to think of themselves in — in lawyer terms and – and broadcast that message to their staff and to the community and as a consequence ignored management responsibilities. And their programs and their staff suffered, and I think their clients did. It’s — it’s very tough to summon up the personalities of each person. The names, you know, come up, and I think you could sit and then discuss that individual for a long time. I’m finding it tough to — to say in a capsule, oh, John Cromarty. I mean, I don’t think you —
TAYLOR: Let me ask you something about the role of the director as the steward for the mission of the program and the fact that the mission for the program changed, and it appears to me, as a person who wasn’t an OEO director, that — that you folks changed with that mission. And what I’m asking about particularly is that the pre-OEO programs, the legal aid programs, were thought of as sort of service or access places that weren’t really making a difference and that the OEO programs came about perhaps to do law reform and change-oriented work. But so many of you, like you personally but Bucky and other people who were early in the leadership of our program, also seemed to have a mission to build the national program. Were you thinking of —
CRAVEN: I don’t think — I don’t think it was building the national program. I think it was building the program. I think the difference —
TAYLOR: So you weren’t just about a law reform mission, though.
CRAVEN: I don’t think it had anything to do with law reform. I don’t think any of us thought in terms of law reform versus service. And I think we always said that is not the point, that that was — that’s an externally developed division that — that has always served a political end, that — that as long as any right-wing nut wanted to say this is social engineering, that that whole division between law reform and service has served only that external purpose of defining us from outside. I don’t think it’s ever been a significant defining factor inside. I think what — what we were after, whether we knew it or not, was stability and growth in a way that you could attract people who had professional self- respect. And I think that — that the view that many of us developed very quickly or was — that existed as OEO was formed was that the old legal aid societies were made up of people who were not going to take professional risk on behalf of their clients and that — that the change was that, that we wanted to attract and hold lawyers in an office in which the clients’ needs were what were being advanced, not the personal security of the attorneys, which is not to say that I think everybody was a brave knight on a horse going after somebody. I just think that the attitude was let’s say that it’s sufficient to be real lawyers, not lawyers who have compromised their clients’ interest for their personal interest.
TAYLOR: Well, has your approaching the role of the director or your — has changed over the last 20 years —
CRAVEN: I think that — what I mean — what I mean by that is I think that that crop of people and that — that generation of directors was the first group that weren’t beholden to some external interest, that their — that their notion of themselves or our notion of ourselves was that this is something we actually wanted to do. This was not a dead-end job and that we were taking because we couldn’t get something else. This was something that we actually set out to do, some of us more than others. Some of us thrust into it like me. This was — saying, Jesus, I never intended to be the director, certainly not this fast. But once we were in that position, saying I’m not going to be embarrassed by the fact that I’m the project director of a legal services program or a legal aid society. And I’m not going to allow lawyers, judges, clients or anybody else to think of themselves as somehow secondary in the system. We’re going to think of ourselves — whether other people do or not is immaterial. We’re going to think of ourselves as what we — what we — what our rhetoric holds us out to be, which is lawyers independently working on behalf of clients. And I think we worked hard to reinforce that notion in ourselves and to make certain that other people didn’t break that veneer and try to subvert it, which I think was — was actively going on. I think that our institutional growth and our maturity has enabled us to leave that stage of our development behind and that for the — the leadership of both social change organizations, bar associations, lawyers who think of themselves as lawyers who are interested at some point in their lives and daily activities in justice and improvement of social relationships and everything else, that — that we have matured to the point that we don’t have to worry about projecting that for ourselves all the time, that that’s an acceptable attitude and that it’s the appropriate attitude. And I think that that was a group of people who all brought that kind of personal sense of responsibility and self-esteem to the — to the profession and to the position. That wasn’t the case earlier in old-time legal aid programs, and in some legal aid societies, it didn’t exist then, and probably in some places doesn’t exist today. But I think that was — that was a predominant personality attribute about those 25 or 26 people that I knew in — in those first six or seven or eight years in the South. And I think also the people that — that took some responsibility to say to the very, very good men and women who were organized bar leaders or who were other — who came from other backgrounds: Thank you very much for your help. We want to continue to be involved with you, but we also want to be in charge of this. We have a — we have a responsibility, which we’re going to discharge across the board, not just locally, but regionally and across the state and across the country. We want your help. We need your — we need your cooperation. We need your assistance. But it’s going to be on a full-time partnership basis, and it’s going to be primarily on terms that we define rather than — than you define. Now, I’m like — I’m sure I’m overstating the drama of it, but I think that that’s the — and I don’t think that any of us at the time would have been able to articulate that that clearly, but I think looking back, that’s — that was where we were headed.
TAYLOR: Well, that’s clearly one lesson that I think you’d like those watching this tape to take. Are there other kinds of things that you think people should learn or know about your peers in the OEO period as directors?
CRAVEN: Well, I guess one of the things that I was talking about earlier is that — is that — that real unselfishness in terms of — of local resources, of — of being willing to be engaged in broader activities, to be engaged in the — in the production of a regional project directors meeting or to be the person who would — who would actually not just go to the PAG meeting but be on a committee that produced a recommendation for the rest of the country to consider and adopt, to be — to be willing to make a personal sacrifice I think is the wrong word, a personal — to develop a personal involvement in — in issues beyond their own community and their program. And to see that as beneficial to their program. I think one of the tragedies of the — of the ’80s in terms of the — the attitude that the corporation adopted was the — the withdrawal of so many of the opportunities that — that project directors had to learn from each other and to teach other. The monitoring. I think there probably — I mean, there’s a whole generation of project directors that don’t — that have no ability to even conceive of a monitoring visit as something which was — was looked forward to because you were going to have people come in and — and tell you, God, you’re doing good work, congratulations; who would actually be concerned about the — the substance of your — of your activity rather than the form of your recordkeeping. And by and large, those were other project directors and staff attorneys and board members who had an enthusiasm for improvement. And — and when that went to — to this adversarial inspection kind of — kind of model, I think it — it both pulled local directors back into their shells so that — so that they had to — to be wary of — of being candid about their — their — the things that they felt were impediments or shortcomings or mistakes because instead of getting helpful advice about how to improve those things, they might get penalized for revealing them. But it also, I think, has had a — it removed the source of support to send people to other places, to not only teach other people, but really I think all of us — I certainly did. If I went to another program on a monitoring visit or one of those technical assistance visits, I always felt that I came back having learned far more about how to do things at home than I had been able to teach somebody someplace else. And I also came back thinking, God, I thought I had, you know, a this or a that that was worse — the worst thing that anybody — embarrassing or — or troubling or whatever, but I’ve got nothing compared to that. And so it — it’s — if you’re looking for advice, it’s somehow find the — find the vehicle to get out of your office. I mean not to say avoid local situations, but to — to get a context for your work by learning from other people. And that’s — that’s got to take place at a regional meeting at which — or a national meeting or just two or three people. I mean, one of the things that came out of Jekyll Island, for instance, was we all formed little trios of — of buddies. And it was remarkable. It still extends to this day, I think, in some ways that — that people were so willing to share their own shortcomings with at least two other people in a very, very extended and deep way, that the trust level to continue that and to say, “This is bothering me. What do you think?” And we were also taught the techniques to deal with that. It wasn’t just let’s go have a beer and sit in a bar and — and warily try to approach a solution to a problem or reveal something in — in layers. I think Reid Whittle and Joan Lieberman and other people like that that we brought into the region and brought into programs really taught us how to — how to learn from each other and how to teach each other. And I think that that’s what people have. That’s what those project directors had; some of them instinctively and some of it learned and some of it by the good examples of — of other people, Michael Terry, Paul Dole, David Lillesand. John Maxey. I mean, I started going through things, John Maxey is a — a real hero of people. He was the only — I think — people used to talk about defunding. It happened to John Maxey. I mean, the Legal Services Corporation not only defunded him, but they created another whole program and — and gave money to the Mississippi bar and — and ran a parallel operation. That’s a lesson for — for people who are talking about competitive bidding now because even — even the funding source after the — after that debacle — I mean, John — the board sued the corporation. They won, but they still funded two programs. And anybody could see that by any measure and comparison that the program run by John Maxey in the tradition of independent legal services that was client-driven was superior. The people in Jackson, Mississippi finally said stop sending money to this thing. I think the bar finally came — came around and said we were used. We were used and abused in a – in a very blatant political way to try to discredit something that — that is — is respected and — and — and thought very highly of. And I think that’s also, you know, the lesson of — of all the project directors who worked very hard to — to — to move into bar circles and make certain that they were known not just as a project director, but as an individual and as a person and that they gained the respect that they were due from bar leaders, so that when somebody in Washington or somebody in a Congressional office or somebody in a — in a political attack attacked some — you or me or anybody else, the response wasn’t “Yeah. I know he’s a — he’s a crazy person.” The response was “Wait a minute. You’re talking about somebody that I know, that I work with, that I deal with and that I trust and respect. And we don’t — we don’t — we don’t buy your view of legal services.” And I think that’s why we’ve survived because we — we have maintained a very clear vision of what legal services is. And the people who wanted — who want to get rid of us have never looked at it honestly. I mean, I think our vulnerability would always have been if we had — if we’d been subjected to honest criticism and — and somebody had come in and says, you know, here’s — here’s where — where these things really are and talked to us, I mean, we’d be the first persons to tell them if we thought that they were honest people.
TAYLOR: If they were a brand-new person accepting a project director’s job in the southeast region today and you had an opportunity to speak to them about that opportunity and challenge, is there anything that you’d say to that person?
CRAVEN: I’d say that they really ought to — they ought to go talk to other people who do their job and say — and ask them and get their commitment to — to — to answer their questions candidly and forthrightly and frequently and vice versa. They would — and say to the — really lay out what their concerns were and their fears, their apprehensions. And find somebody who could say those are — just like in any other enterprise, those are the same problems that I had or the same apprehensions, or I felt pretty much the same as you, and I’m still walking and talking. To — to be open to suggestion. To — to find the other directors that they’re comfortable with. And then find the ones they’re uncomfortable with and — and — and deal with both of those things. Why is it that I get along with this group and why is it that I sort of stay away from that group? And particularly if there are — if there are external characteristics that aren’t from your background, to make an absolutely concerted — I want to use the word “affirmative,” but I don’t mean it in the way that it’s become politicized. But affirmative is the — go out and seek people who are different and — and get their advice on how — on how they do things and start to broaden your perceptions and your range of perceptions. And I think I would seek out John Rosenberg and Dennis Bricking and John Cromarty and Betty Care. Ellen Smith, Dick Taylor. Marcus in Wilmington.
TAYLOR: Marcus Williams.
CRAVEN: Marcus Williams. I’d go find — I’ll tell you, I’d go find George Brown and A.C. Wharton, John Maxey. I’d see those — the people who — and ask them the questions I think you’re asking me. What would you do differently if you could do it today?
TAYLOR: — A.C. I remember A.C. when I first came into legal services. He was the director —
CRAVEN: In Memphis. Yeah.
TAYLOR: He left legal services for political —
CRAVEN: I think he became the public defender or a judge. I know George was chairman of the school board. And then has become a judge. A.C., I think is — was — become a public defender or some elected office. Maybe it was — I don’t know. But both, I think, dealing with — with active minority and poor communities, used their programs not in a political sense, but to do what I think should be done. Make those programs institutional. Make those programs represent the opportunity for change in the local community. And I think the clients saw that, and I think George and A.C. both moved out of the programs into direct positions of — of influence as a result of the respect that they gained from the constituencies that they represented.
TAYLOR: I’d like to bring it back to the issue of personalities because that’s sort of our — our main topic — topic, and give you an opportunity to reflect further on personal impressions that you had of any of the particular people you were associate — had been associated. You mentioned Jerry Becker and Dennis and John Cromarty. Was Ashley Wilshire an earlier person?
CRAVEN: Ashley, I even knew when I was in college. I mean, Ashley and I both went to the same undergraduate school. And I don’t think you could find somebody that’s reliable. I don’t think you could find somebody who has more quietly, diligently and productively created an institution, nurtured strong professionals who do things beyond the ordinary, who — who also move beyond their programs. I don’t know Gordon Bonnyman, and I don’t know some of those other people, but I know their names. And I know that they have — in the same way that in North Carolina Pam Silberman has become an influential person in — in other circles. Or Ted Fillette or — or Lenny Gerber in my office. And moved into other organizations as — not — not only as — as representatives of legal services’ point of view but as strong people whose — whose experiences are worthwhile, whose — whose judgment is respected and whose leadership is — is sought after. And I think — I think Ashley is — is the embodiment of somebody who has — who has taken the opportunity that a legal services program provides to find the professional people — the lawyers and I’m sure the — I’m sure the support staff in Nashville are as dedicated and as well-respected as the lawyers — and keep them nurtured and — and find opportunities for them to use their skills and to find the groups of clients that need them and — and where — where it’s indicated, uncover the needs for clients. I can remember the article that was done on industrial insurance by somebody from Ashley’s program. And I’m sure Ashley encouraged that and got it pub — you know, helped her find the clearinghouse to make sure that it got wider distribution. And I think that’s a — that’s an attitude that project directors in any day or age or time, this year, last year, 20 years ago, that’s what they should be doing. They should be looking for the spots that their staffs can — can produce in. I don’t think I ever — my personal perspective was never to say, “I need somebody who’s going to do this, this, this and this, and the spectrum is this wide, and I’ve got to cover it all.” I think — I think for me and I think for a lot of people, a more productive way to approach that was to say that the problems that poor people have every day range from here to here, and wherever we are at work in that spectrum, we’re going to be helpful. There are places where I think we can be more helpful than other places at times, but I don’t know that you can ever predict what that is. That’s why I think the law reform service distinction is pretty artificial. There are things that — that can be done as service that — that ennoble people and restore their dignity and give them an opportunity to take hold of themselves in ways that some things that are — that are more powerful as public relations image don’t do and vice versa. But I think that the various individuals that I can remember as — as being influences on me seemed to have the ability not to worry about whether they were doing it all, but to worry about what they were — whether what they were doing was being done well and making sure that was happening.
CRAVEN: Well, I mentioned Reid. I can’t remember if Joan came in simultaneous with Reid Whittle or before or whatever, but I think another — I mean, it’s another indication of — of whoever. Jerry Becker or Bucky or Dan or Victor Geminiani spent some time in this region. But somebody had the good sense to discover Joan. And then I think we all had enough good sense to get her involved with what we were doing whenever possible. I think she was harder on herself than — than on — than we were. I never — I never had a bad moment with — with anything that Joan was doing. I think I’ve always —
TAYLOR: — she is for the tape. I’m not sure —
CRAVEN: Joan Lieberman, a management consultant from — from Colorado who — who studied the organization of legal services programs and leadership patterns in legal services and made lots of I think very risk- taking observations about us as a — as a group of people and our — and our — our failings and our shortcomings and our blind spots and worked — didn’t just observe and sort of leave it at that, but then said, “Here’s what you might be thinking about to clear up some of these things.” I think very helpful in — in opening up a lot of the male directors’ perception of the women who were working in legal services programs. I think again in the same way that George and A.C. were — were very helpful and — and other — other black directors have been very helpful with white directors in saying, you know, “These are problems.” Not always in ways that I think those of us who were — who were seeing them, some of these things for the first time or for the tenth time thought was — you know, this — this is not — it’s not easy stuff. John Powell, when he was in Miami, was enormously influential in helping people understand why we’re different and — and build on the differences rather than let those things be diversions or impediments. But I think Joan has been very helpful in encouraging women in legal services to — to take on positions in which they asserted their perception of things and their approach to things. And also helping the men in legal services understand why the women or some women or these particular women saw things differently and what to do about it, how to approach things. But I think she’s — taken — she took a lot of her own time and energy to really study us. And I think it’s — I think it’s always helpful to hear from people who have made observations about the way we worked or the way we’ve organized our work, to see what they say and how they compare it to things that we — we don’t have experience with. I think we discovered that we’re not as unique and as special as we sometimes allow our self-righteousness to convince us that we are. And Joan helped take us — bring us back to reality and — and show us that — that our — I think very responsible positions aren’t so exalted as sometimes we try to convince ourselves that they are, that we’re — we’re working in difficult circumstances with difficult problems and so are a lot of other people, and that you don’t improve in your ability to work with those problems if you’re always patting yourself on the back for being there, that you’ve — you’ve got to pay attention to other — other things than — than your own wonderfulness.
TAYLOR: You mentioned Dan Bradley and the — being the regional director early in your career. Do you have —
CRAVEN: Well, I could do a —
TAYLOR: — about Dan?
CRAVEN: I’m going to — I’m going to make sure that I get to do a tape about Dan, I hope a whole tape. I met Dan when I was in law school. He was the Reggie recruiter. And I said, “Reggie? That sounds like a good thing,” and applied. And he said, “Oh, no problem.” And then I didn’t get it, and I got to Winston- Salem, and a guy who had not — not even interviewed turned out to be assigned there as a Reggie. Fellow named Don Carson, who I’ll not say terribly bad things about, but he wasn’t that great a guy. And the only reason he wanted to be in legal services was he wanted to avoid the draft. This was 1968, and he thought he was going to go to the Army. He had a job at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York, and he didn’t give one fig about being in legal services. And there he was with a Reggie. And that — and that was an enormous disappointment to me to learn that Dan Bradley had somehow engineered that. So that when I finally met Dan Bradley as a project director and he was the regional director, that’s the first — I mean, that was the first thing that I encountered him about. And he told me that — that he didn’t have enough Reggies, and somehow this guy kept pestering him. And so he said that he would take a Reggie if — he’d go anyplace but North Carolina. So Dan says, “Well, to get this guy off my back, I’ll get — tell him he’s got one, but he’s got to go to North Carolina.” And he switched signals and accepted it. He was one of the people that was fired in the first — I think he was the first person that was fired in September or October. But Dan, I think, was my ideal as a — as a bureaucrat and as administrator. And he would convene our project directors meetings early. And as we got into organizational OEO or — issues, if we started down a particular line and he asked a question, he would — he would remind us not to answer any of his questions unless he could demonstrate to us what he was going to do with the answers, that the world was so full of useless information or collective information that never went any further than the collector, that he wanted us to always challenge him. If he asked us for something, that it was our affirmative responsibility to say, “What are you going to do with the answer, Dan?” And if he couldn’t come back with a satisfactory response, then to just tell him to go to hell. I’ve never met anybody since that was that wise, I guess, about the relationship between somebody who was dominant and somebody who has to respond, to say that I’ve got to have a demonstrable need for what I’m asking for. I don’t understand why Washington doesn’t sink into the sea with the responses that we have made or that have been required to questions that you know have never been analyzed, have never gone any further than the need that the person had to sort of demonstrate that he had the power to ask you the question and demand an answer.
TAYLOR: What are your thoughts about Clint Lyons?
CRAVEN: Clint is another person that I think has been a spectacular leader in a community of diversity, who has demonstrated to blacks and whites and men and women how to work together from different perspectives and how to understand each others’ backgrounds, that they are — that they’re not that important, that they’re special to us individually, but they’re absolutely of no consequence communally, and that — that we can put all of our personal stuff sort of in a secondary place and come together and work on things in an atmosphere in which we can understand how we’re going to do it. And he’s led us, I think, through that maze countless times in ways which were very, very — at times very tense. I remember when Chattanooga had a situation which they’d been assigned by a federal judge to represent a Klansman. It was a — it was a position in which the program probably could have done things to defend itself from that, but again, we were so inexperienced. As a matter of fact, James Bradley is another old projector director who’s still hanging around here. And he reminded me just the other day that he still had something from me that was a card to him months or maybe even years later when we got almost in the same situation, which the Klan showed up at our office demanding because they were poor to be represented. And because we had been through the — the incident with — with James in the region with Chattanooga, I think I knew how to handle that and knew how to avoid the entanglement and the embarrassment and the agony that James Bradley and the Chattanooga program went through. But as the legal services community, I can remember Clint calming people to say whatever the circumstances were, you had to look beyond those and – and work for poor people who didn’t have those kind of attachments and that we could — we could move beyond that and not be divided. Just because we disagreed with how things had happened, that we didn’t have to be divided. So I’ve got a lot of admiration for him. I’ve also got a lot of — I’m always puzzled by — by Clint’s stamina and his ability to — to — to be up playing poker at 5:00 in the morning and look like he’s gotten a full weekend’s rest and relaxation at 8:00 in the morning when he opens the conference. Always — always looking cool and calm and completely in charge. I don’t know where he — I don’t know how he recharges in those two hours.
TAYLOR: He was very proud at lunch today about the fact that he did that last night.
CRAVEN: I’m sure. I mean, he’s a — it’s a mystery to me about how he can do that.
TAYLOR: The last person I want to ask you about is somebody I know is a good friend of yours and that’s Bucky Askew.
CRAVEN: I don’t think — again, I don’t see how anybody in his professional life could encounter more wonderful people than I have been able to do with Dan and Bucky and the people like that who were in positions where they had the authority, you had to go to them asking for help and money, and they responded not in a way that I see, I think, in other organizations, both private and public, but in a — in the kind of spirit of cooperation and collaboration and helpfulness. I don’t think there’s — there’s maybe one hostile bone in Bucky’s body, thank God, because he’s got the barbs for people who have always been pains in our neck. I don’t think there’s anybody wittier or — or with a lighter touch on serious subjects. And I think we’ve been very fortunate to have somebody like them, like Bucky, growing himself. I mean, I think the other part of this is that you go back, and Dan and Bucky — we were all in our late 20s and early 30s when we started. So we’re all, I think, still young people in most terms. And the ability to change and adapt and learn and grow, Bucky, I think is another embodiment of that and a real example to anybody. I can’t imagine a more skillful knitter-together again. I mean, there are so many people that Bucky seems to know as well as I think he knows me, that I don’t know at all. And I just think how can — he knows me so well, he must spend all his time thinking about what — what’s on my mind and helping me out. How could he possibly have any time for anybody else? And yet everybody that I’ve ever met I think feels the same way. So again, it’s a mystery of how he has the time to keep current and fresh on so many people and their needs — and also do the thing that I think we’re talking about from the very beginning: Connect people so that — so that he can say, “If you need something, you ought to talk to so-and-so.” And that person is always the right person to talk to. That person always has something to offer. He knows how to — how to — how to put those things together. So that — again, I guess it’s back to the advice to the new project director would be, you know, make certain that you meet Bucky. And tell him what’s on your mind because you’ll — you’ll get a lifetime subscription to — to this network of — of assistance.
TAYLOR: Any final thing that you’d like to say?
CRAVEN: That this is not enough time, and I hope that this whole project is something that — that is sustained and accelerated. I’d like to see — I guess I’d like to see it done in a — in a — even a conversation that — I mean, I feel very inadequate to describe these early other project directors and not be able to give somebody who might be watching these tapes the flavor of their personalities. I’d like to see us get into, you know, going to make sure all the people — I mean George and A.C. are two great examples of people who left legal services 15 years ago or 20 years ago, it seems, who I’d love to hear talk about these days. I like — and I’d love to talk to again myself, but I think that — that, if anything, I’d like to — I’d like to be supported to go around and see all these folks and reminisce in a — in a productive way. And also I think bring in — make sure that this gets to — to — to new directors in an interactive way so that instead of just watching the tape and saying, “What’s — you know, what’s this guy have to say?” there really is a chance to say, “Let’s — let’s talk.” I think that’s not something that — again, the size of the groups has sort of frustrated the ability to be as intimate as — as that group was, and I’d — I’d like to see — if there’s a message to the youth of tomorrow, it’s break down into groups of 25 and — and try to reproduce this — this feeling yourself.
TAYLOR: Thank you. (Conclusion of interview)