Last Saturday night, the Gate City Bar Association, the oldest African-American bar association in the state of Georgia, inducted three new members into its Hall of Fame: Forrest B. Johnson of Forrest B. Johnson & Associates, Hezekiah Sistrunk, Jr. of The Cochran Firm, and Richard H. Sinkfield of Rogers & Hardin.
Sinkfield, a business litigation attorney who is known at his firm as “Mr. Ethics,” was the subject, five years ago, of a Georgia Super Lawyers profile, in which his remarkable intersection with seminal events of the civil rights movement was highlighted. An excerpt:
[Sinkfield’s] family had moved to Montgomery, Ala., and in December 1955, after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus, the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by a young pastor, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was created, and public transportation was boycotted by the black community. “I walked the four or five miles from my house to school during the year of the boycott,” Sinkfield remembers. “I attended several mass meetings and was a youth participant in my church’s ride program”–in which churches, including Sinkfield’s Mt. Zion AME Church on Holt street, coordinated donated station wagons to provide transportation for commuters who had no other means of getting to work.
This was only the beginning of Sinkfield’s brush with some of the more seminal events of the civil rights movement. He entered Tennessee State in Nashville at the age of 16, and eventually became involved in the Nashville sit-ins, which, like the bus boycott in Montgomery, drew the attention of the nation. “My job was to keep count of the number of persons arrested and call back to the church or other meeting place for replacement sitters,” he says. “I still remember the violence with which arrests were made at the lunch counters, and the fact that hecklers would sometimes spit on or press lighted cigarettes against the clothes or skin of the demonstrators.”
Later in his career, Sinkfield was a charter member of the MLK Holiday Commission, and he worked closely with Coretta Scott King on holiday celebration planning, but his only personal contact with the civil rights legend occurred in the early 1960s when he attended a non-violent training seminar, led by Dr. King, at the Highlander Folk School in Mont Eagle, Tenn. One evening, he remembers, “Several of us were held under house arrest after state troopers detained Dr. King off premises for questioning.”
For all of this, Sinkfield’s starkest memory of the period is a relatively positive one–when he traveled to ROTC camp in 1961. “I rode the train from Montgomery to Waco, Texas,” he remembers. “The ROTC camp was in the summer for 28 days. When I left, the train was segregated as well as the waiting rooms. During the 28 days of the period I was at camp, [the Kennedy administration ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban all segregation in areas under its jurisdiction]. So when I returned, all the stuff that was segregated when I went to Texas, was integrated on the way back.”