GREENWICH VILLAGE LEGENDS: Why Ramsey Clark is Our Model for the Future

By Bruce Poli

There are few unheralded heroes left today who have built what is now our great civil rights movement across America. One of them, whose stature is nearly equal to that of John Lewis but from a different perspective (and he was a close friend of Lewis’), is our beloved longtime West Village resident Ramsey Clark—the last living cabinet member of LBJ’s Great Society in the 1960s. 

Featured as a heroic witness in The Trial of the Chicago 7, the film by Sacha Baron Cohen, his disciplined, principled professional life is legendary, and a model for American youth—Black Lives Matter supporters included—who want passionately to stand up for what is right in this era of Trumpism corruption.

RAMSEY CLARK AT 93, a Civil Rights pioneer and the last cabinet member of The Great Society. Photo by Bruce Poli.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act of 1965—as it is being proposed to be named—was actually written and supervised by Kennedy-appointed Deputy Attorney General Clark. As Attorney General he also helped write and shape the 1968 Civil Rights Act. These were two pillars of The Great Society that set a permanent standard for civil rights and equal justice in our federal government.

It is not widely known that John and Robert Kennedy brought Texan Ramsey Clark to Washington DC to help them shape civil rights policy and legislation. Clark traveled to the South in 1961 to help challenge the segregation of schools and, in 1965, was supportive of John Lewis and present during the five days of protests that culminated on Bloody Sunday when Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama—a landmark of our civil rights movement history. 

Clark has run for the Senate, but his compassionate devotion to democracy far exceeded his promotional talent. Self-deprecation and a mild but highly effective manner (it was Teddy Roosevelt who said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”) has fallen out of favor in America and been relegated to the bottom rung of society in the degenerating Trump era. 

When The Donald was first elected I walked up to Ramsey Clark on the street and said, without hesitation, “We need your voice!” “Nobody’s listening,” was his response.

So, it’s time we all recognize a giant of one of America’s greatest legacies—the long journey to freedom and equality. 

At age 92 (his 93rd birthday will be on December 18th) Ramsey Clark lived to see the memorial of his great friend John Lewis—the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., and tireless exhaustive fighter for his beliefs nearly to his death. 

Tears came to his eyes as Ramsey Clark watched and heard the speeches celebrating Lewis’ life and legacy. They reminded us of who we are, and how 60 years ago America fought for what we believed in and got results.

There is far too much good and principled action that Ramsey Clark has contributed all over the world during his many years as an activist to be included in this brief celebration of his life. But I will say this: our forefathers built all that is good in this country and we are fortunate to have one living among us today.

Thank you Ramsey Clark, for all you have done in your nine decades of life and the service you have given to our country, leading us down a path we must now return to as a new era of hope, diversity, and compassion will inevitably emerge as we strive to recover all we have recently lost. We still need your voice.

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