Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harvey E. Beech, September 25, 1996. Interview J-0075. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Beech's formative practical legal education

Beech explains how his legal practice benefited because of Durham attorney C.J. Gates' training. He discusses the strategies and practices black lawyers employed for racial injustice cases.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harvey E. Beech, September 25, 1996. Interview J-0075. 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

HARVEY E. BEECH:
...So, I went to Durham, and I met a Mr. C. J. Gates, who graduated from Boston University law school, many years ago. And I asked him could I come and learn how to practice with him. And he said, "Well, where do you plan to practice when you learn?" I said, "I plan to go back to Kinston." And he said, "Why don't you stay with me here in Durham, I need somebody." I said, "Mr. Gates, I plan to go home." He said, "Well, if that's the case, I have to charge you." He charged 24 me one third of all of his expenses. I paid one third of his rent, one third of the secretary bill, and one third of everything. And I had a chance, though, to learn how to practice under him. We went to the Federal District Court, the Supreme Court--my first case was a case that he had, and I think it's one of the landmark cases on police brutality, I call it. They charged a young lady in Greenville with resisting arrest, and we took that case to the Supreme Court. I did all the legal work in it. And we won the case in the N.C. Supreme Court. The case was reversed. She was convicted; we reversed it in the Supreme Court. At that time, we didn't have enough money to cover the field. And during that time, if anybody Black got in trouble, where Whites were involved, the only person you could, they could hire would be Black lawyers, and we used to go to cases like, in Williamston, where a man was charged with raping a White woman, or something. And in order to get paid you'd have to go and have the consultation with your clients and the people, and then you had to go to church that night and almost preach and raise money in a handkerchief. And I would go with the lawyers and I would count whatever money they had. Sometimes it would be hundred dollars or less. But that's the way it was in those days. We're talking about in 1952. But I learned how to practice law with Mr. Gates, and I always will remember and be indebted to him, although he's gone now, for allowing me the opportunity to learn how to practice. I maintain today, and I think I mentioned it when I was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Law Alumni at Carolina, but I made the suggestion, that when a person finishes law school, passes the bar, he is the most inadequate person that I know of who can call himself a professional. He knows nothing about how to do it. I advocate, over and over again, that a law student graduating from law school and passing the bar should be required to take some kind of apprenticeship to learn how to practice. I stayed with Mr. Gates for two years. I came to Kinston in 1953 or ′4 and began to practice, alone, and had a rather successful practice in the very beginning. No one knew that I had been in training for two years. They assumed that I was just out of law school, I guess. But I used the courtroom just like my living room again, and I think being so brash, they gave me more credit than I was due...