Carl Maxey

A Fighting Life

Jim Kershner

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; African American Studies; Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir
  • Bibliographic information: 288 pp., 25 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Carl Maxey was, in his own words, "a guy who started from scratch - black scratch." He was sent, at age five, to the scandal-ridden Spokane Children's Home and then kicked out at age eleven with the only other "colored" orphan. Yet Maxey managed to make a national name for himself, first as an NCAA championship boxer at Gonzaga University, and then as eastern Washington's first prominent black lawyer and a renowned civil rights attorney who always fought for the underdog.

During the tumultuous civil rights and Vietnam War eras, Carl Maxey fought to break down color barriers in his hometown of Spokane and throughout the nation. As a defense lawyer, he made national headlines working on lurid murder cases and war-protest trials, including the notorious Seattle Seven trial. He even took his commitment to justice and antiwar causes to the political arena, running for the U.S. Senate against powerhouse senator Henry M. Jackson.

In Carl Maxey: A Fighting Life, Jim Kershner explores the sources of Maxey's passions as well as the price he ultimately paid for his struggles. The result is a moving portrait of a man called a "Type-A Gandhi" by the New York Times, whose own personal misfortune spurred his lifelong, tireless crusade against injustice.
Jim Kershner is a journalist for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.

"An essential biography of one city's civil rights hero, wonderfully written and impeccably researched. . . . Carl Maxey was a man whose complicated life transcended its own gripping details to mirror a turbulent time in our recent history, a time when it seemed as if race and justice would forever run on separate tracks."
-Jess Walter, author of The Zero

"Jim Kershner's biography of activist Carl Maxey is not only inspirational and informative, but because it is so well written it is also a pleasure to read."
-Carlos Schwantes, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. An Orphan's Fire
2. A Father in Black Robes
3. The Count and the Club
4. Walking Right into Trouble
5. King Carl Wins the Crown
6. Eastern Washington's First Black Lawyer
7. Stirrings from the South
8. The Haircut Uproar and a Perfunctory Execution
9. Freedom Summer in the Tail End of America
10. "The Sickness of Our Nation"
11. A Right Hook to Scoop Jackson
12. The Seattle Seven Circus
13. The Maxey Temper
14. Ruth Coe's Greek Tragedy
15. "No Goddamned Award"
16. "Living through All This B.S."
17. Type-A Gandhi
Notes on Sources

"As with any well-constructed biography, we finish the book feeling that we have just met someone personally. Carl Maxey: A Fighting Life is a fitting tribute to a controversial ground breaker in our state's history. Today it is actually much more than that. It stands as evidence testifying to the hard road traveled by many African Americans and thus a tribute to the recent accomplishment of our 44th president."

"Kershner uses the story of Maxey's life to show the barriers that African Americans faced in Spokane, even though the city was not in the South and could pride itself in having no segregation laws. . .The state has changed since then. This book is the story of one man who helped change it."
-Seattle Times

"Reads like a modern Dickens tale."
-Law and Politic, Summer 2009