Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Maury Maverick, October 27, 1975. Interview A-0323. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Legal support of Vietnam-era draft resisters

Maverick explains his legal work in helping draft resisters during the Vietnam War. Interestingly, despite his work to help young men evade the draft, Maverick explains that he did, in fact, support having a draft army because it generated so much opposition to the war. Additionally, Maverick describes what it was like to face criticism for his open support of the antiwar movement early in the war, before the movement gained momentum, arguing that it was the "second most terrifying" experience in his life after the McCarthy era.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Maury Maverick, October 27, 1975. Interview A-0323. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Well, you were very much involved in defending draft resisters at that period, weren't you?
MAURY MAVERICK:
I spent five years representing draft resisters and being excited about it. I have young kids that are all over the United States now, who are "my kids" that I saved from going to the penitentiary or being killed. I want to tell you an interesting thing about the draft. Unlike most of the people in ACLU, of which I am a member of the national advisory committee and I am also a contributing attorney for the American Friends Service Committee, I'm for a draft army over a volunteer army. The reason for it is that I learned something. The reason is that all of the radicalism and the dissent against the Vietnam war, virtually all of it, came from the middle and upper classes that were caught up in the draft. Blacks and browns were escaping from the ghettos and escaping from a second-rate war to a first-rate war. They got better guns in the Vietnam war, they got a pension, they got a medal, they didn't go to the penitentiary, they were escaping from something that really was almost worse than what they had back where they lived. Whereas the kids in the middle class, the swanky parts of Texas and North Carolina or wherever, they knew what they were going to lose and that's where the radicalism came from. It's an interesting thing, I don't want to talk too long, but it is an interesting thing that over 50% of my enlisted men clients were kids from small Catholic colleges who had been educated enough in these little rinky-dink Catholic colleges by the brothers and priests and lay teachers to know that they were getting rooked, but because they were Irish or Italian or German and not socially powerful enough to put a fix on the draft board like we Episcopalians and Presbyterians could do. Well, those were the ones who raised hell. Now, among the doctors, over half of them are Jewish, but there is a different set of historical reasons that we could talk about forever. The reason that San Antonio was so important as a conscientious objector center was that this was where the l-A-O conscientious objectors were sent. That means the guy who can be the medic. They got down here and they began to see that the mission of the medic was ultimately to kill people just like the infantryman because they were to "sustain the fighting force," or words to that effect. That was the motto. Kids would constantly be lectured in terms of getting a man back on the battlefield to kill someone. So, they would have a change. They would change from 1-A-0 to 1-0 and that's when they would come to see me. I was the only lawyer in town representing them until a young lawyer named Jerry Goldstein came along, who I trained and who became better at it than I was, and then another one named Leonard Schwartz, two young Jewish lawyers and myself. Only three lawyers out of over 2,000 that would walk into a court for those kids voluntarily. The thing that I always resented and resent today, is that during the time when the Vietnam war was still popular, I would walk into a federal court with a poor little kid that didn't want to murder anybody and he would be shaking in his boots and I would be shaking in mine and we would be treated more rudely than…I would make maybe five hundred dollars and we would be treated more rudely than a lawyer who would walk in with a heroin pusher and making a $15,000 fee and caught with fifty pounds of heroin in the back of a trunk somewhere. It was rough.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Treated rudely by whom?
MAURY MAVERICK:
I mean treated rudely by people like the marshałs, who would sort of hover near you like someone was going to blow up the court or the judges would be sharp to you, "Sit down, Counselor," and talk to you in a rough kind of way as if you really had some dangerous person with you. I must say, though, that the federal judiciary, particularly the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, gave us the great relief that we needed. I think the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit maybe saved the Old South from actually going into open rebellion. The finest judge among all of them was a Republican appointee by Eisenhower named Minor Wisdom, out of New Orleans. He had organized Louisiana for Eisenhower over Taft and he had a very conservative background and he got on the bench and became the most humane man on the bench, I think, today.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
He's still on there, isn't he?
MAURY MAVERICK:
He's still on there and he's a great old man.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Why were so few of your fellow lawyers willing to take these cases? How do you explain that?
MAURY MAVERICK:
Well, it's related to patriotism, you know. It's a lack of patriotism to not back your country in time of war and it was the second most terrifying thing that I went through in my life. The McCarthy era was worse, but I was older and smarter and my skin was thicker and didn't give a damn as much. But, there was this question of whether you loved your country or not and people were checking on me. I knew that I was under surveillance. I would go out to the military bases and sometimes the military police would follow me. Since then, I've talked to people who said that they would say, "Maury Maverick is now driving into the base," and they would have a condition read as if someone from Mars was landing at Galveston. Sometimes when I would talk to kids in a parking lot…they wouldn't let them come to my office,I had to talk to them in a parking lot, well the MPs would circle me and one time, I got my associate, Herschel Bernard, who is Jewish, to come and help me and a big MP came up, looked like he was about six feet, seven inches tall and damn near weighed 300 pounds. He had his fists doubled up and looked like he was going to beat us up and I said, "Sergeant, if you are goint to beat anybody up, beat my law partner up. He's Jewish." [Laughter] And the sergeant had a sense of humor and he started laughing and Herky Bernard said, "You son of a bitch, speak for yourself." [Laughter]
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Well, this isn't the first time that you've been "surveilled", as they say. The FBI or somebody has been on your tail for many years, haven't they?
MAURY MAVERICK:
I guess so.