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Telling Carl Maxey’s Story: Understanding the Fighter in the Ring and the Courtroom

In the account below, Jim Kershner, author, historian, and longtime journalist for the Spokesman-Review, Spokane’s major daily newspaper, discusses what led him to the story of Carl Maxey, one of Washington States key 20th century civil rights figures, and the challenges he encountered while writing Carl Maxey: A Fighting Life which was published in 2008 by the University of Washington Press:

Carl Maxey was legendary to those of us in the newsroom of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington in the 1990s. He was a civil rights attorney, political firebrand, and all-around gadfly to the local and statewide establishment. He had been in the middle of every local civil rights story, and a few national stories as well, since the 1950s. To top it off, he was a bona fide sports hero in a city starved for sports glory (he won the NCAA boxing championship in 1950). So in 1997, when I began working on a multi-part history feature titled, Segregation in Spokane, I knew that Maxey would be my most essential source. He had grown up in Spokane during the Great Depression and he would be able to vividly describe the regions particular brand of de facto segregation. Even better, he could describe how that system was dismantled, because he was the man who had largely dismantled it. He had employed a mix of principled persuasion and lawsuits to force an entire region to, essentially, do the right thing.

When I interviewed Maxey in April 1997, the grey-haired 72-year-old was predictably sharp and acerbic about those days, recalling getting repeatedly tossed out of the citys amusement park, even on nights when the bandstand entertainer was Fats Waller or Duke Ellington. He was also full of stories about taking restaurants to court, going after social clubs where it hurt them most (their liquor licenses) and heatedly debating the practice of redlining with the local real estate leaders. He was still full of disdain for certain hotels and restaurants, not because they still discriminated, but because they had dragged their