Alton Maddox’s lengthy legal career has been marked with fighting for the Black community in New York City, where he has taken on many widely publicized cases, often battling the system at large. In essence, the 76-year-old lawyer is a freedom fighter.
Here are 10 things to know about the legendary attorney Alton Maddox.
Born in Inkster, a suburb of Detroit, Maddox grew up in Newnan, Georgia, a city in metro Atlanta about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta, surrounded by strong Black figures.
“My parents would never let me work for white people as I was growing up because they didn’t want me exposed to that way of instilling the racial superiority of whites,” Maddox told The New York Times in 1987.
As a child, he attended all-Black schools before heading to historically Black Howard University during the early and middle ’60s. Graduating in 1967, he headed back to Georgia, where he became an organizer in an antipoverty program and worked for political campaigns. Maddox decided to go to law school after working to elect an all-Black slate of candidates in Southeastern Georgia, only to have the courts throw the slate off the ballot.
He graduated from the Boston University Law School in 1971 and moved to New York in 1973, where he began working for Harlem Legal Services. In 1981 Maddox went into private practice.
Maddox is a former director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers Juvenile Defense Project. He also founded the Center for Law & Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, a racial justice legal center in New York City servicing Brooklynites of African ancestry and those who are disenfranchised.
Maddox represented several alleged victims, including:
The 1987 incident caused a pause in Maddox’s legal career. The 15-year-old was found in a trash bag on a New York City street after going missing for four days from her home. She was found naked with racial slurs written on her body and was covered in feces. She said she was kidnapped and raped by four white men including police officers and a prosecuting attorney. The case brought national attention to her and her advisors, who included Maddox, Al Sharpton and civil rights attorney C. Vernon Mason. In 1988, a grand jury concluded that Brawley had not been the victim of a rape and she might have staged the attack. Steven Pagones, the New York prosecutor whom Brawley had accused of being one of her assailants, later successfully sued Brawley and three advisers for defamation, according to court papers.
In 1990, Maddox was indefinitely suspended by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn after he failed to appear before a disciplinary hearing to answer allegations regarding his conduct in the Brawley case, The New York Times reported.
In 1997, Maddox and his group, a pan-African organization named United African Movement, were fined $10,000 by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights after they denied a white teacher access to a speech by Cornel West based on her race.
Maddox, who calls himself Attorney At War, pleaded his case for reinstatement in a 2011 article for The Amsterdam News. Maddox regularly contributes to the Black-owned newspaper. In the article, he called out several politicians and stuck by his defense of Brawley.
“As long as racism exists, Black lawyers have to be on the cutting edge,” Maddox told The New York Times. “I feel that every time I go into court, I am trying to dismantle the Dred Scott decision, which says a Black person is three-fifths a human being. All my cases are just camouflaged Dred Scott.”
Maddox is very active on social media, often posting essays on Facebook. In one, he presented the argument for Black people to create their own political party.
“Everyone, except Blacks, understands that voters need their delivery system to empower their vote. Otherwise, the vote is meaningless. A Black political party coupled with the Black vote could be, for example, a threat to the monopoly on budgets held by the two-party system. We could have a major impact on the budgeting process. Budgets reflect choices, priorities, and the importance legislators place on goods and services delivered to our community. A Black political party could deliver the ‘bacon,'” he wrote.
Maddox was one of the speakers at the Oct. 15, 1995, Million Man March preview. At the event, he said, “Let us not allow the white man to use us to attack each other…The problem that we are having is the issue of the House Negro and the Field Negro…Those of us who will be out there on the Mall (marching) will be out there to make sure these House Negros confess to their collaboration with the enemy against Black people. And it hoped that as a result of that we can once again live in unity and that…the Black man will rise.”
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In an undated speech given at Brooklyn’s famed Slave Theater (recently posted on Twitter), Maddox spoke of Black history and how Black people gave up their power by no longer being self-sufficient through agriculture. He called out Black people who gave up farming the land to move to the big city. “You gave up the basic thing…the ability to grow crops. You had to be in New York. You had to be in Chicago,” he said.