Ramsey Clark at 90: America’s Most Liberal Attorney General and Veteran West Villager (Part 1)

“The greatest crime since World War II has been U.S. foreign policy.”—Ramsey Clark

By Bruce Poli

RAMSEY CLARK, WEST VILLAGE LUMINARY: Quietly taking the sun, the author discovers our West Village neighbor, the most liberal U.S. Attorney General. Photo by © Bruce Poli.

Ask me why I live in the West Village, and I might say, “Because people like Ramsey Clark live here.”

Considered one of America’s most liberal Attorney Generals, Ramsey Clark, who served in the Department of Justice during the Kennedy and Johnson eras, is perhaps the antithesis of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions in style, policy, and most importantly, character. He cares and he cares deeply, even today, nearly half a century after leaving Washington.

Clark’s era of compassion in government reminds us that it wasn’t always open warfare between the public and the government. America was actually defended and enhanced by its representatives in Washington.

In fact, the Johnson administration is now considered the gold standard for good, progressive domestic leadership.

In his recent book, Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson’s White House, Joshua M. Zeitz posits that the greatest legacy threatened to be erased by the Trump administration is not Barack Obama’s, but Lyndon Johnson’s. Ramsey Clark is a pillar of that legacy. He supervised the drafting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

So deeply committed to justice was Ramsey that he had the audacity and chutzpa to represent not only Saddam Hussein, but also Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia’s warlord Charles Taylor in their War Crimes Tribunal trials. He did so against all odds and with the great wrath of much of the American public and politicians.

At 90, Clark lives quietly in the West Village. He has been here since leaving D.C. in the early 1970s—almost completely removed and nearly erased from memory in the Trumpification of America.

But Clark’s opinions matter. He represents the golden age of democratic law, even while the country was erupting with assassinations, street fighting, violence, and, of course, the Vietnam War. He was America’s top law enforcer in the critical year of 1968—the turning point of American politics.

In 1961, Clark, purportedly, was highly placed in JFK’s Justice Department in order to become Attorney General (AG) under Johnson, from 1967 to 1969. His father, Tom Clark was Harry Truman’s AG. The story of their influence, Father, Son and Constitution: How Justice Tom Clark and Attorney General Ramsey Clark Shaped American Democracy by Alexander Wohl was published in 2013 by the University Press of Kansas.

I recently handed him Jill Freedman’s documentary photography book Resurrection City to Ramsey Clark. (It chronicles the Poor People’s March of 1968.)

“Oh, I remember this well,” he said. “I let a lot of the demonstrators into my office and everyone at Justice was saying ‘What the Hell is Clark doing?’”

“A big black woman was standing over me, wagging her finger at me. She was angry.”

“But she was right wasn’t she?” I asked.

“Sure was,” he answered in his distinct Texan drawl.

“How do we survive this onslaught in the Trump era?” I asked.

“We just have to let it take its course. That’s part of democracy,” he responded.

Last year, when seeing Ramsey Clark sitting in a wheelchair on a lonely West Village sidewalk, I thought, “My God, this man’s been forgotten.”

Part two of this article will appear in the April 2018 issue of WestView.

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5 thoughts on “Ramsey Clark at 90: America’s Most Liberal Attorney General and Veteran West Villager (Part 1)

    • Author gravatar

      I am exactly 6 months older than AG Ramsey Clark. That means he’ll be 92 this Dec.18 and I will celebrate June 16, 2018 I have just finished writing the history of my family and 7 generations and I remember his Father and Mother, Mary. I am writing this to see if he might be interested in talking to me – even for a few minutes not only to let him know he’s not forgotten but neither are his parents.
      They were very kind to me and I remember sitting on his Father’s lap when he came to visit in our home. I have a picture of a memento from his folds in my book.
      I’m wondering Ramsey remembers MY father and mother, Ada and Lou Pollock in the shoe business in Asheville, N.C.
      If not -I certainly understand. ( I can’t even believe how much I remember) I simply want to say hello and my thoughts and good
      wishes go his way. I even have a quote of his in the book. I remember it and found it on line.
      If you could forward this to Attorney General Ramsey I would be most grateful
      Betty Pollock Golden Atlanta, GA
      I can only hope this gets to him and of course I have no way of knowing.

    • Author gravatar

      I forgot to mention the name of my book to be ready by my June 16 birthday (or sooner)
      is “Nothing is by Chance” This message is for AG Ramsey Clark and I just sent a post that I didn’t
      know was going out. ( Well I’m 91+ and I’m happy to just be here!)
      Betty Pollock Golden

    • Author gravatar

      He is not forgotten. I would like to speak to him if possible. I can be contacted at 732-363-5068
      P.s. I admire his representing people who would not be represented thus getting a fair trial.

    • Author gravatar

      Many years ago I spoke with Ramsey Clark on a phone call of complaint about the way that Vietnam veterans were being treated. I had applied for an SBA loan for my then business, a country inn in Pennsylvania. It was just a happenstance that I somehow even got to speak with him on that day. But it changed my life and gave me the courage to fight on conquer alcoholism and lead a good life with a woman I have admired for 46 years. I always wanted to thank him for that chance to speak and his wisdom. On that day I experienced kindness and grace from a man I have always admired. Thank you Attorney General Clark …..
      John Hanna

    • Author gravatar

      Ramsey Clark is one of the bravest and most consistent people I have ever known about. My late husband and I stood on the ANSWER platform and held hands high in solidarity as CSPAN televised the huge anti-inauguration protest of George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election. People shouted “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME,” as VP Cheney’s limousine with blacked-out windows drove in the motorcade. I do believe that a huge majority of U.S. citizens today suffer from collective amnesia regarding this nation’s political history. I will not forget Ramsey Clark. Thank you Ramsey Clark.

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