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November 15, 2018 Pro Bono Matters

Georgia on My Mind

By Francine J. Lipman, William S. Boyd Professor of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV

“Georgia, Georgia
The whole day through
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind”

Pecans, peaches, peanuts, a possum named Pogo, and a progressive state income tax made Georgia the perfect place for the Section’s October 2018 meeting. Georgia, named after King George II of Great Britain, was the last of the original thirteen colonies founded in 1733 as a refuge for released debtors and the poor. In 1788, Georgia joined the Union as its fourth state, but in 1861 Georgia left the Union for the Confederacy. After the Confederacy lost the Civil War, Georgia rejoined the Union in 1870, as the last of the southern states to return.

“I said a Georgia, Georgia
A song of you
Comes as sweet and clear
As moonlight through the pines"

A state of many contrasts, Georgia was literally the place that the civil rights movement was born. Atlanta was not only Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthplace but also home to the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), Student National Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and many historically black colleges and universities. Michael King, Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929 to Reverend Michael and Alberta King. Inspired by Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation leader, Reverend King, Sr. changed his own name as well as his son’s name in 1934. When King, Jr. completed his extensive education and training, he and his spouse, Coretta Scott King, moved back to Atlanta to pastor at their beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church.

In the 1960s, Atlanta boasted vibrant professional and middle-class African American communities and became a cultural catalyst for civil rights activities. SCLC and SNCC, groups advocating nonviolent protests (remindful of today’s public kneelings against racist police violence), selected Atlanta as their headquarters. SNCC staged massive sit-ins at Atlanta department store lunch counters where Dr. King and many students were arrested in late 1960. With students refusing bail and straining government resources while demonstrations caused significant reductions in business, community leaders negotiated an end to segregation at the downtown lunch counters. Nevertheless, segregation continued throughout Atlanta leading to additional sit-ins until the landmark passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As history books illuminate, King’s nonviolent protests led to countless arrests and at least 29 incarcerations. Federal and state tax charges were also part of the relentless harassment King and his family suffered. In February 1960, King became the only person ever prosecuted under Alabama’s income tax perjury statute for falsifying his 1956 and 1958 tax returns.

In King’s own words:

The white Southern power structure […] indicted me for perjury and openly proclaimed that I would be imprisoned for at least ten years. This case was tried before an all-white Southern jury. All of the State’s witnesses were white. The judge and the prosecutor were white. The courtroom was segregated. Passions were inflamed. Feelings ran high. The press and other communications media were hostile. Defeat seemed certain, and we in the freedom struggle braced ourselves for the inevitable. There were two men among us who persevered with the conviction that it was possible, in this context, to marshal facts and law and thus win vindication. These men were our lawyers—Negro lawyers from the North: William Ming of Chicago and Hubert Delaney from New York.

They brought to the courtroom wisdom, courage, and a highly developed art of advocacy; but most important, they brought the lawyers’ indomitable determination to win. After a trial of three days, by the sheer strength of their legal arsenal, they overcame the most vicious Southern taboos festering in a virulent and inflamed atmosphere and they persuaded an all-white jury to accept the word of a Negro over that of white men. The jury, after a few hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of acquittal.2

“I said, Georgia, oh Georgia
No peace I find
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind”

Today, Atlanta is a vibrant global city with almost 500,000 residents, the majority of whom are African American and almost one-half of whom are college graduates. Atlanta is an economic engine for Georgia and the entire southeast enjoying top rankings for a successful business climate for the past five years. Economists cite the busiest airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and more than 250,000 college students at Emory, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, and Spellman College (among others), as vital to Atlanta’s booming economy. Almost 30 Fortune 1000 companies including Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, Turner Broadcasting and United Parcel Service are headquartered in Georgia.

In addition to strong businesses and residents, Georgia benefits from tax lawyers with the “indomitable determination to win” at two low-income taxpayer clinics.

The Phillip C. Cook Low-Income Tax Clinic at Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta is a nationally recognized component of GSU’s Center for Clinical Programs and Center for Access to Justice. Clinic Director W. Edward ‘Ted’ Afield, Associate Director Tameka Lester, and Clinic Fellow Emily Yaun work with GSU law students to develop professional judgment “to promote justice and public good.” The clinic’s motto, “Education Through Service,” is reflected in a mission dedicated to helping students bridge the gap between the substantive knowledge gained in traditional doctrinal law school courses and the practical knowledge needed to effectively perform as legal professionals committed to providing access to justice for low-income taxpayers. The clinic accomplishes this mission by providing students practical experience in resolving taxpayer disputes with the Service and exposure to real world professional and ethical issues. The clinic is currently in its 26th year of operation and in that time about 1,000 clinic students have saved millions of dollars in tax liabilities for thousands of grateful Georgia taxpayers.

J.C. Vision & Associates, Inc. in Hinesville, Georgia operates a low-income taxpayer clinic that provides representation to qualifying households who have federal tax disputes or debt collection matters with the Service. J.C. Vision has operated this tax program since 2003 for taxpayers residing throughout middle and southeast Georgia.

These two LITCs provide critical access to tax justice for those in need in Georgia. Despite the booming economy Georgia suffers a 16 percent poverty rate among its almost 10.5 million residents. The poverty rate in Atlanta, Georgia’s capital and economic engine, is fifty percent higher at 24 percent. Since 2000, Atlanta has seen its high-poverty neighborhoods triple as it suffers the “suburbanization of poverty.”

Providing access to tax justice is how tax lawyers help fight poverty and fulfil Dr. King’s dream. Georgia’s two LITCs, led by passion warriors Professors Afield and Lester, among others, not only provide Georgians with access to skillful advocacy and tax justice, but at GSU’s Cook Clinic they train a flourishing pipeline of future tax lawyers. These lawyers exponentially benefit Georgia and beyond.

King’s epiphany regarding tax justice after his 1960 acquittal is illuminating:

I am frank to confess that on this occasion I learned that truth and conviction in the hands of a skillful advocate could make what started out as a bigoted, prejudiced jury, choose the path of justice. I cannot help but wish in my heart that the same kind of skill and devotion which Bill Ming and Hubert Delaney accorded to me could be available to thousands of civil rights workers, to thousands of ordinary Negroes, who are every day facing prejudiced courtrooms.3

“Other arms reach out to me
Other eyes smile tenderly
Still in the peaceful dreams I see
The road leads back to you”

This passion warrior for tax justice has Georgia on her mind and in her heart.

1 In 1979, Georgia on My Mind, written in 1930 on a cold and stormy evening in New York City by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, was designated as the official Georgia song.

2 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Sit-In Movement, in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ch. 14 (Clayborne Carson, ed. 2001) (emphasis added).

3 Id.