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February 6, 1990, Tuesday, City Edition

SECTION: TAMPA; Guest column; Pg. 2


LENGTH: 833 words

HEADLINE: Bombs ended two men's unselfish fight for justice

BYLINE: Charles A. Felton


 Shortly before Christmas, Federal Judge Robert Vance of the U.S.    Court of Appeals received a package in his affluent, suburban    Birmingham home. As he opened the package, his body was torn apart by a    powerful pipe bomb. His wife also was injured in the blast. Two days    later, Robert Robinson, an alderman and prominent Savannah, Ga.,    lawyer, was killed when a similar package exploded in his face at the    Savannah headquarters of the NAACP. Two additional bombs, which    apparently were related to these two incidents, were mailed to the    Jacksonville office of the NAACP and to the 11th Circuit Court of    Appeals in Atlanta. However, they were detected before they could be    detonated.
    Vance recently had written a blistering reversal of the Florida    ruling that would have signaled a mandatory end to school busing to    hundreds of schools throughout the South. In the past several years,    Vance also had rendered unfavorable rulings against the Ku Klux Klan    that awarded monetary damages to civil rights marchers. Robinson served    as one of the NAACP's legal counsels who worked on appeals and other    matters related to segregation practices within the Savannah school    system.
    These two courageous men, apparently unknown to each other, were    professionally linked in the continuing struggle for equality and    justice for blacks.
    Vance was white and described as a brilliant legal mind. It would    have been easy for him to quietly accept a position in southern    aristocracy and forsake his conscience on matters that would promote    racial harmony and justice. But he chose to fairly administer the law    that he had sworn to uphold.
    Robinson easily could have settled into a lifestyle of "black    bourgeoisie." However, he chose to use his prominence and brilliance    to further educational goals of disadvantaged minority youth. Robinson    obviously saw that illiteracy, unemployment and the failure of many    black youths to compete successfully in a highly technical society were    a result of disparities within our educational system and used his    legal training and experience to remedy this situation.
    The U.S. system of justice may be imperfect, but as far as I know    it's the best we have. Robinson realized this and sought to exercise    his right as a U.S. citizen to call upon the law of the land to correct    shortcomings in our educational system. This was certainly a proper    thing to do. Robinson did not seek justice on the streets by rioting or    other means of violent behavior. He did not seek a remedy to his    complaint as a sniper through the telescope sights of a high-powered    rifle. And, of course, he did not resort to the treachery of sending    pipe bombs through the mail to kill innocent people in the sanctuary of    their homes.
    Likewise, when Vance answered the call to be a federal judge he did    so with a clear understanding that he had a responsibility to his    country to make our judicial system work. I am certain that Vance    realized that unless the law was applied fairly and equally, then    within a short time our society would be inundated with terrorism,    violence and anarchy. The truth of the matter is that if Vance rendered    a decision against school desegregation, I would not have respected him    any less. I may have disagreed with him, but at least he had the    decency to use our justice system to settle disagreements.
    Unfortunately, everyone did not think as Robinson and Vance did,    and as a result of their convictions, both of these fine men met with    dastardly and untimely deaths.
    Thousands of years ago, a voice cried from the heavens saying,    "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?"
    The Prophet Isaiah then said, "Here am I, send me." I believe    that this same voice echoed throughout the ages seeking men and women    of goodwill who had the courage to bring about a better understanding    of people of all races and nationalities.
    I believe that Vance and Robinson were moved by the eternal voice    and gave themselves unselfishly to making this a better world.
    I don't know how others feel, but I am eternally grateful to them    for having the courage of their convictions and their unselfish    commitment to justice, decency and fair play.
Charles A. Felton of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department is the    director of the Detention and Corrections Bureau.
Anyone interested in submitting a guest column for Tampa and Brandon    Times should contact Charrie Hazard at Barnett Plaza, Suite 1140, 101 E      Kennedy Blvd., Tampa 33602.