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Celebrating 50 Years Forward

April 26, 2013

Birmingham has embarked on a yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of 1963 – a pivotal year in the Civil Rights era and in our city’s history. The celebration – named 50 Years Forward – offers numerous opportunities throughout the year for us to reflect on the Civil Rights era and honor those who played leading roles.

One of the signature events of 50 Years Forward will be held Saturday, May 4, 2013 – the The event will also preview a remarkable 26-minute documentary film “Preserving Justice,” which was produced by The Center for Public Television and Radio, the award-winning multi-media production center housed at the University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences. The film highlights attorneys’ contributions and the roles attorneys played in the important events of the Civil Rights Movement.

Clarence B. Jones, former personal counsel, speech writer and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will deliver the keynote address. In addition, Dr. Jones joins 27 other legal pioneers who will be recognized at the event for their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham including Sirote’s J. Mason Davis, Jr. and the late General Edward Friend – one of the firm’s original founders.

In 1935, J. Mason Davis, Jr. was born in Birmingham. He was educated in segregated Birmingham public schools and later attended Talladega College where he received an A.B. degree with highest honors. After graduating from the State University of New York School of Law as a member of the Law Review, he returned to Birmingham and began his law practice in 1960. From the day he returned to Birmingham, Mason Davis has remained a dedicated and inspirational leader in the civil rights movement.

As the attorney for a number of students who participated in the widely publicized Huntsville lunch counter sit-ins during 1961 and 1962, Davis played a key role in the desegregation of Alabama. He argued a series of appeals and won every case at the Court of Appeals.

Like J. Mason Davis, Jr., Edward M. Friend, Jr. was also born in Birmingham, although some 23 years earlier. He graduated from Phillips High School and was a 1933 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Alabama. After receiving his law degree from Alabama in 1935 he practiced law in Birmingham until 1941 when he entered military service.

While serving his country, Friend served in North Africa, participated in the invasion of Sicily and then landed on Utah Beach on June 7, 1944, the day after D-day. He had a long and distinguished military career and was released from active duty with the rank of colonel, although he continued his military service in the Army Reserve retiring with the rank of Brigadier General.

After the war, General Friend (as he was fondly named) returned to Birmingham to practice law where he co-founded the firm now known as Sirote & Permutt. While General Friend was proficient in the fields of tax law and corporate and estate planning, he is most fondly remembered for being a compassionate humanitarian.

Early in his career he founded, organized and served as the first president of the Birmingham Legal Aid Society, where he vigorously campaigned for improved race relations and worked tirelessly to that end. While serving as president of the Birmingham Bar Association, General Friend fought for the admission of persons of color, and his efforts successfully opened the organization to many more black attorneys. As J. Mason Davis, Jr. has stated many times, “General Friend knew instinctively what was fair, just and honorable; he did the right things for the right reasons.”

The Journey for Justice will be a historic evening for Birmingham and represents a pivotal event in the city’s 50 Years Forward celebration of the Civil Rights Movement. We hope you will have the opportunity to attend on May 4 to join the celebration. To purchase tickets CLICK HERE. To see photos, Complete List of the Journey for Justice Honorees

The Honorable Oscar W. Adams, Jr.; Norman Amaker; James K. Baker; Abe Berkowitz; Orzell Billingsley, Jr.; Harvey Burg; The Honorable U.W. Clemon; Jerome “Buddy” Cooper; J. Mason Davis, Jr.; Edward Friend, Jr.; The Honorable Peter A. Hall; Charles Hamilton Houston; The Honorable Frank M. Johnson; Paul Johnston; Dr. Clarence B. Jones; The Honorable Tom King, Sr.; The Honorable Thurgood Marshall; The Honorable Nina Miglionico; Charles C. Morgan, Jr.; Constance Baker Motley; The Honorable Demetriuis C. Newton; J. Vernon Patrick; The Honorable J. Richmond Pearson; The Honorable Arthur D. Shores; C.H. Erskine Smith; The Honorable Robert Vance, Sr.; The Honorable David Vann; W.L. Williams, Jr.

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