Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Before the feature film Just Mercy starring Michael B. Jordan, before the HBO documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality, before the TED talk that has more than seven million views, before the five successful arguments before the Supreme Court, before the 130 overturned death sentence convictions in Alabama plus others nationwide, there was just Bryan Stevenson, a poor boy from Delaware and a fresh out of school lawyer working for the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC) in Alabama.
And that is when Stevenson met Walter McMillian, a black inmate from Monroeville, AL, who had been convicted of the murder of a white woman. With no physical evidence and only the flimsiest of testimony from three supposed witnesses, McMillian was condemned to die in the electric chair.
Stevenson took the case and was convinced of his client’s innocence. Battling cronyism, conspiracy, and bogus legal maneuvers, Stevenson doggedly pursued justice for his client. McMillian was released from prison in 1993, five years after his conviction.
The McMillian case forms the basis of Stevenson’s memoir, Just Mercy, which covers many more appalling miscarriages of justice handled by his scrappy firm, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) which he founded in Montgomery, AL when federal funding for the SPDC was eliminated.
His work is so disheartening, I don’t know how Bryan Stevenson gets up in the morning, but I’m glad he does. He is my new hero.
Some of the words used by members of my book club to describe the book: appalling, tragic, disgraceful, shameful but above all a must read.
What Other Reviewers Say
Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times: “[A] searing, moving, and infuriating memoir…Bryan Stevenson may, indeed, be America’s Mandela. For decades he has fought judges, prosecutors and police on behalf of those who are impoverished, black or both….Injustice is easy not to notice when it affects people different from ourselves; that helps explains the obliviousness of our own generation to inequity today. We need to wake up. And that is why we need a Mandela in this country.”
Who Wrote It
Bryan Stevenson is the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a professor of law at New York University Law School. He has won numerous awards including the Benjamin Franklin Award from the American Philosophical Society and a $230,000 MacArthur Foundation Grant which he donated in its entirety to EJI.