Little Bits of History

You Be the Judge

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 7, 2014
Judge Haley being led from the courtroom

Judge Haley being led from the courtroom

August 7, 1970: Judge Haley’s courtroom is disrupted. Harold Haley was born in 1904 and received his law degree from San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College (later called the University of San Francisco) in 1928. He became a city lawyer for San Rafael, California and later was district attorney for Marin County. In 1956, he was appointed as a municipal court judge and was named to the superior court in 1965. He married his high school sweetheart, Gertrude Ahern and the couple had three daughters.

In the summer of 1969, a 20 year old inmate at Soledad prison, WL Nolan, began circulating a petition to file a lawsuit against the prison superintendent charging that guards and officials knew of problems which put African-Americans at risk. On January 13, 1970, three black prisoners were shot and killed at Soledad by corrections officer Opie Miller. Nolan was among the slain. There had been a fight in the prison yard between some whites and blacks and Miller blew a whistle (but did not shout a warning) before firing and killing three black inmates. The next day, 13 black inmates began a hunger strike and demanded federal investigation. Miller was exonerated by an all-white Monterey County grand jury which decided the case without hearing any testimony from any of the black inmates who had witnessed the shootings.

On January 17, 1970, 26-year-old prison guard John Mills was beaten, dragged up three flights of stairs and then thrown to his death. A note beside his body read, “One down, two to go.” Three blacks, Fleeta Drumgo, John Clutchette, and George Jackson, were charged with his death and sent to San Quentin to await trial. The three became known as the Soledad Brothers. Racial tension at the Soledad prison increased with two guards held hostage in March and two men (one guard, one white prisoner) killed in July. In Judge Haley’s court on this day, James McClain from San Quentin was on trial for stabbing a guard. Jonathan Jackson had brought guns supplied by UCLA professor Angela Davis into the courtroom.

After sitting quietly for a short time, Jackson (brother of the man jailed at San Quentin) stood up and threw a gun to McClain. McClain held the gun to the judge’s head while Jackson ordered everyone to “Freeze.” The hostage takers freed other San Quentin prisoners who had been there to testify. They then all moved five hostages out of the court. They demanded that the Soledad Brothers be released from prison and then the men and their hostages entered a panel truck and drove away. The police set up a roadblock and when the truck closed in, opened fire. Jackson, McClain, another prisoner, and Judge Haley were killed. Three others were wounded. Angela Davis eluded authorities for two months before being arrested in New York City. She was found not guilty on all counts.

There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts. – Mahatma Gandhi

What this country needs is more unemployed politicians.

Racism is a much more clandestine, much more hidden kind of phenomenon, but at the same time it’s perhaps far more terrible than it’s ever been.

Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo – obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other. – all from Angela Davis

Also on this day: Kon-Tiki – In 1947, Kon-Tiki made landfall.
Purple Heart – In 1782, George Washington created a new merit badge.
Le Griffon – In 1679, Le Griffon set sail on her maiden voyage.
Not Ready for Laptops – In 1944, the Mark I was presented to Harvard.

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