"If you pick up this book, you won't be able to put it down until the final, bittersweet page."
--Holly Chase Williams
Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living
read full review »
"The essential biography of one city's civil rights hero, wonderfully written and impeccably researched"
--Jess Walter, National Book Award finalist
Imagine a black man from Eastern Washington running for U.S. Senate and accusing the sitting Democratic senator of being "a short, fat, white Republican masquerading as a Democrat." In 1970, Carl Maxey said that about Sen. Henry Jackson.
... As Jim Kershner of the Spokane Spokesman-Review shows in this well-written biography, Maxey was a spark plug for social change in Eastern Washington.
Kershner's biography is sympathetic but not fawning: He portrays Maxey as sometimes bitter and unfairly harsh, but also compassionate, disciplined and utterly fearless. Maxey was not a scholar: He barely made it through law school and didn't like researching cases. But he was phenomenal in the courtroom.
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. Here is the story of how Louis Armstrong, in Spokane for a big concert in 1950, was refused a room at the swank Davenport Hotel, and how in 1956 a private club with a show by Sammy Davis Jr. refused to serve Maxey, even though he was accompanied by governor-elect Albert Rosellini.
The state has changed since then. This book is the story of one man who helped change it.
Robert H. Keller, Columbia, The Magazine of Northwest History, spring 2009
Kershner has written a highly readable, well-documented account of Maxey's life. It would be well worth reading at any time, but it holds particular interest today, after the dramatic [election] events of November 4, 2008 ... . Kershner carefully traces the legal story while also tracking Maxey's personal life, which included two strong wives and two children. 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. (Excerpted from full review).
Catherine Hinchliff, HistoryLink.org, September 08, 2008
Kershner gracefully connects Maxey's life and work as emblematic of one of the most turbulent periods in Washington history. In Kershner's fascinating and engaging biography, Maxey comes alive as a dynamic force, both in the courtroom and in the ring.
Spokane Metro Magazine
Carl Maxey was a complicated man. His turbulent life, from orphan to pugilist to the achievement of becoming Eastern Washington's first black lawyer, reads like a modern day Dickens novel. Longtime Spokesman-Review reporter and columnist Jim Kershner's new book, "Carl Maxey: A Fighting Life," captures Maxey's powerful personality. Kershner's storytelling talent, combined with research and interviews with not only Maxey... but those who knew him best, paint a portrait of a man who came into the world fighting and never put down his gloves.
Carlos Schwantes, author of The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History
Jim Kershner's biography of activist Carl Maxey is not only inspirational and informative, but well written and a pleasure to read.
Holly Chase Williams, Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living
September 2008, Volume 10, Issue 6
Gonzaga yearbook, 1941: Class favorites-- Radio star: Bob Hope. Singer: Bing Crosby. Boxer: Joe Louis. We all have our heroes. For Carl Maxey, a young African-American from Spokane, who attended Gonzaga, Louis was an inspiration; an indication of just how much he might someday achieve.
According to the book, "Louis, nicknamed the Brown Bomber, had recently defeated Max Schmeling to become the heavyweight champ of the world. In those days, boxing was one of the few arenas of American life in which a young black man could win respect..."
Faced with a life of challenges from a young age, including being left in an orphanage and later being kicked out of that same orphanage simply for being black, Maxey's life truly was a fighting life, and it was heroes like Louis who gave him inspiration.
In this not-to-be-missed biography, Spokanite Carl Maxey starts from scratch --black scratch and fights his way to becoming an NCAA championship boxer at Gonzaga, Eastern Washington's first black lawyer, and a renowned civil rights leader working on lurid murder cases and war-protest hearings, including the notorious Seattle Seven trial, eventually even running for the U.S. Senate.
Never one to avoid a controversy, Maxey ended up advocating for notorious South Hill rapist Kevin Coe during the sentencing phase of the trial. Here is a passage from the book "Son" by Jack Olsen, as quoted by Kershner: "Although resented by many local lawyers for a tendency, as one observer put it, to 'keep throwing his blackness up to the court for special treatment' the talented Maxey was considered by other Spokanites as an earthly version of St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes. The Coe family handed him one; keeping Fred from the penitentiary."
Carl Maxey's life ended on July 17, 1997, closing one of the greatest chapters in Spokane's history. His obituary in New York Times Magazine was titled "Carl Maxey: Type-A Gandhi", a phrase coined by Maxey's longtime paralegal Debbieann Erickson the day after his death. Erickson, inspired by Maxey, went on to become an attorney herself.
Black Americans like Carl Maxey paved the way for today's Barack Obamas and Oprahs by overcoming injustice in their time, from race riots in Spokane and humiliation in local restaurants and hotels, to discrimination in the army.
If you pick up this book, you won't be able to put it down until the final, bittersweet page. As the bronze bust in the Gonzaga University School of Law's library walk says, "Carl Maxey...He made a difference."