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Robert Collins interview, Part 1
Rogers, Kim Lacy
Rogers and Collins start by disusing his upbringing and the schools he has attended. He brings up the influence he had from his mother and what he has achieved in his career as a lawyer.
Rogers begins the interview by asking Robert Collins about his upbringing and family background. He mentions having attended both public and private schools, including Gilbert Academy where Tom Dent and Andrew Young were among his classmates. Collins particularly attributes his interest in legal work to his mother, whose social sensibilities influenced his thinking. Additionally, as a domestic worker his mother was often around lawyers, and she encouraged him specifically to pursue a career as a lawyer. He also describes confronting segregated signage, particularly in public transportation, as driving him to work toward change: "I wanted to use the law as a weapon to defeat the forces of segregation and discrimination." He also describes his experiences as one of the first African Americans to attend the Louisiana State University Law School, where he was roommates with Dutch Morial. He mentions his experience in the military after law school and his subsequent partnership with Israel Augustine and then in the partnership of Lolis Elie and Nils Douglas. Collins continues to describe his disenchantment with NAACP litigation of segregated conditions and overviews his work with the firm with the firm of Collins, Douglas, and Elie. He describes that the firm felt duty-bound to pursue Civil rights litigation and often did so without a fee and they had to balance that priority with the reality of earning income. He refers to the firm as a "ghetto practice," lacking many clients of means. He notes the irony that African Americans of means rarely supported his firm and instead typically opted to seek the services of White lawyers: "[We] eked out a very bare living during those days." He mentions frustrations with legislative and other barriers to Voter registration. He describes an incident in Plaquemine, Louisiana, regarding James Farmer's protests in that town; he and his partners went to the town on a Sunday night in response to a violent and chaotic confrontation between protesters and police shooting teargas into the crowd. He describes how Farmer was "smuggled out of town in a hearse," with another hearse acting as a decoy. He describes another incident with Freedom Riders in Poplarville, Mississippi, where Collins went to investigate after the demonstrators were arrested. He continues to describe the trial and small town politics, including their firm faking credentials despite not being able to legally practice law in Mississippi; with the backdrop of a lynching the year before of an arrestee in Poplarville, the mayor eventually feared for the safety of those arrested, and ordered that they all leave the state as quickly as possible and charges would be dropped. Collins notes that this was the most fearful he had ever been for his safety, and that this was just a few months before the slaying of Civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.
New Orleans (La.)
Amistad Research Center
Box 3, Item 20, Side 1, Kim Lacy Rogers collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U. S. Copyright laws.