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Dean Robb: An Unlikely Radical Interview Part 4

Dean Robb Welcome to GAL Radio brought to you by the Greatest American Lawyer Blog.  Changing the way law is practiced through technology, innovation, and creativity.  Turning the business of law on its head and shaking things up to the betterment of clients, lawyers, law firms and society.  This is one in a series of shows featuring Dean Robb, activist lawyer and a leader in the legal arm of the civil rights movement.  Dean is the subject of the book: “DEAN ROBB: An Unlikely Radical.”  Now here’s your host, Steve Quick.

Steve Quick:  Hi, this is Steve Quick.  I’m speaking with Dean Robb, lawyer and subject of the book:  “An Unlikely Radical”.  Dean, what’s it been like promoting the book?

Dean Robb:  Well, it’s been exciting because it’s hooked me up with a lot of people that I would just, ordinarily, wouldn’t be talking to.  This week I was at the friends of the Northport Library, and they had, surprisingly, I was doing Mark Twain.  I do a one man show about Mark Twain.   Sort of a…I guess, I could probably be sued by Hal Holbrook, because a good deal of the material is kind of from his Mark Twain Tonight.  But I’ve changed it and I’ve made it my own and, luckily, a lot of people have commented that they think that I am more authentic and a more real Mark Twain than Hal Holbrook. And, of course, that’s a compliment.  As Mark Twain said, “I like all compliments.  If you can’t get one any other way, pay yourself one.”  So, I’ve had fun doing them at the library.  There were a lot of people who had already read the book, but it was, no doubt, the crowd was partly because of the book.  And there were about sixty people in Northport at 1:00 on Monday afternoon of this week.  Northport is not exactly a tourist location at this time of the year.  But it was a great crowd, and we had a good discussion.  I answered questions about what my study of Mark Twain.  The book, though, was kind of the reason that they called me, I think.  Then earlier last week, I spoke to the Traverse City or Traverse Area Humanist Society.  I didn’t even know what the Humanist Society was, but they’re a bunch of doubters.  They claim to…their philosophy is that they don’t believe in the supernatural.  So, that makes them question religion and the hereafter, and so, that puts you right in Mark Twain character territory, because he made a lot of fun of the human being creating this heaven based on faith rather than science  and where is it and so forth and so, it puts me in that question of….speaking about what I see from Mark Twain and from my own life, I see religion shaping a lot of our values, and some of our best ethical considerations come directly from our early religion, yet a lot of people, even including myself, I’m not too comfortable about believing in heaven and hell.  That’s something I have no scientific proof of, and I question about re-living and being brought back.  I know there is sort of a spiritual connection that I don’t think any of us understand between all human beings, and I like to think of that as being what we refer to as a brotherhood of man, and that we are connected because we’re human beings and we inhabit the same planet.  We need to take care of each other as a matter of self protection, really, and that leads me, of course, to the criticism that all over the world we’re killing each other in the name of the God.  And a religion, cult, whatever you want to call it….everywhere you go, there’s people in Africa and Asia and certainly in this country.  Look at what happened from this Florida preacher burning the Koran.  A whole thirty or forty people were killed in Afghanistan as a result of that.  And those kinds of things are, you know, terribly upsetting to people who are trying to lead an ethical life and be a good human being.  So, what’s that got to do with the book? Well, I guess the book, recounting my life for the first half century, from 1924 to 1971, gave me a chance to go back and figure out the different things that shaped myself.  What are my values?  Why do I care about certain things? And why am I the way I am?  So, this self-published book, “Dare to Be Radical”, has just been an eye opener for me and particularly it was a great experience to do that with my 25 year old son, Matthew.  It turns out that he’s a good writer.  He’s a good story teller.  I didn’t know that.  Really, I’d seen some of his papers in college and, you know, so many of them are, they seem irrelevant, but when he starts writing about you and about your stories, they get relevant real quickly.  I had a great time recounting different episodes in my life.  First being born out in the country in Southern Illinois and then what it was like to live in the 20’s and 30’s during the depression….no electricity, no radio, none of the - certainly no cell phone – and growing up poor, really, but relatively rich because we lived on a farm, and we were able to live well in that depression.  Then, going on to high school, riding a pony to catch a school bus and four years in a little high school in Southern Illinois, where I was a farm boy, mixed up with these kids in town, where you know there is a cultural difference between being a country kid and a town kid and that whole experience, and my earlier attraction to girls and how nervous I was about school dances and discovering a little bit about yourself in terms of your horny side, that was fun.  And then going from high school to the University of Illinois, a hundred bucks put me all the way through college and law school.  That’s all I had when I went to the University of Illinois in 1941.  Signed up, paid all my tuition and books for the first semester.  I think it cost $42.00, and then that $100 was the seed money.  I got a meal job and a Saturday job working in a grocery store, then I went into the Navy for two years, no great experiences there except being acquainted with the, really, it was the gentleman’s Navy.  I was an officer candidate, and I really got a belly full of racism there because I saw our orderlies that were feeding us and taking care of us were all black and many of them were college graduates.  Some of them had more education than I had at that point, waiting on me because I was white, that’s the only reason I could understand.  Also, being kind of told by the officers in this Navy Hospital that I shouldn’t socialize with these black guys, because I’m an officer and a gentleman, that kind of stuff, which I rejected, and I think that got me started on racial equality, and that’s been key to my life ever since.  It’s been an interesting trip, of course.  Being a lawyer, I think, has been the main thing about my life.  I mean.  I am so proud to be lawyer because almost every day as a lawyer I have a chance to help change, a little bit, someone’s perspective on something or sometimes guide them to a solution for their problems.  I get a lot of calls because I’m sort of a go to guy for hopeless causes, a little bit too much.  Some of these clients think I walk on water and I don’t.  And I’m just like every other lawyer.  I’m struggling to do the right thing, and I still work because, partly, I need to make money still because I’ve never been a money guy.  Money has never been the central mission in my life, so, I, you know, I probably neglected that a little bit, so I’m not crying but I’m telling you that a part of the reason I’m still working at 87 is that I love it, and secondly, my wife and I can spend it.  And there’s so many needs for money.  We get like you do, we all do, we get probably get ten requests a week for contributions, and so many of them you want to send them some money, whether it’s Amnesty International or Southern Poverty Law Center or on and on and on.  Planned Parenthood now, they need help.  And fighting prejudice.  I mean, we’re now facing a whole new kind of McCarthyism, I call it, this making liberal a dirty word, making the best of America in my view, progressive politics, trying to make that a disloyal, almost, just like we did after World War II.  We got into that cold war where everybody was hunting communists, and that was a terrible, terrible period of prejudice.  A lot of people got hurt, a lot of teachers lost their jobs, labor leaders got thrown out of their unions.  Matt put it really well in the book.  We don’t need government to participate in getting people to hate each other, to mistrust each other.  We need government and we need all of our institutions to embrace each other, embrace our differences and, you know, help each other build a better world.  And there’s no question now that we know we’re all connected.  This global economy is sure proving that. 

Steve Quick:  We’ve been talking with Dean Robb, lawyer, activist and subject of the book: “An Unlikely Radical.” 

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