I've been hard at work on the Levy book proposal, which wrapped today. This required talking to the great man last weekend about his involvement in registering black voters in 1965 rural South Carolina - voter registration being the activity that got him pink-listed by military investigators, which eventually got him court-martialed.
But I didn't actually get to ask the questions I intended because in the middle of the call I got another earful of fantastically funny and nearly unbelievable stories about his time at Leavenworth post-court-martial.
Can I say it? Howard's the only dermatologist I know who could disarm a potential psychopathic ex-Green Beret cellmate (who was rumored to have threatened to kill Howard) by sitting him down and saying in all seriousness, "I'm sure you didn't do whatever it is you're in here for.... why don't you start from the beginning? Tell me what REALLY happened..." with the end result that the Green Beret was, legitimately, exonerated with the help of one of Howard's attorney friends. And of course, they became good friends and wrote a book together on political dissent. You can't make this stuff up.
Howard's also the only Leavenworth prisoner to start, as he jokingly put it, "the original farm-to-table prison restaurant." This involved one of the two prison farms where Howard performed the hard labor part of his sentence, and an unlikely alliance with Leavenworth's mafioso "diners", who had access to contraband substances - specifically, olive oil and vinegar. (You maybe don't think about these things when you think about Leavenworth, but sure, one of the glaring deficits might be the absence of tasty fresh salads.)
I made the pencil drawing above in a haze of stale coffee, it's based largely on information I found in an iconic Flip Schulke photograph of Alabama voters. If you don't know who Flip Schulke is, treat yourself and go visit the website of the late great Minnesota farm boy who became a trusted friend of Martin Luther King and who took great photos for Time and Life.
It was a great era, full of heroic men and women. And despite what you hear on the nightly news, there are still lots of heroes, struggling to do the right thing by their conscience, even if all it gets them is three years hard labor at Leavenworth, and more interesting pals than you could ever want.
Enough of all that (for now). Don't forget to vote next month. So many good men and women died for that privilege - it's kind of a sad joke that we can't find candidates that the majority of American people actually trust. Okay, try not to think about that. Even if you only vote down-ballot, at least you're voting. Please?