Carl Maxey wasn’t just an attorney to Spokane’s African-American community.
He was an icon.
“We’ve lost a hero,” said Lemar King, a 19-year-old waiting to get his hair cut at Larry’s Barber Shop. “He did a lot for the community.”
Throughout his childhood, King heard stories about the legendary Maxey - the first black attorney in Spokane, the activist who stood up for human rights, the philanthropist who sponsored King’s Hoopfest team two years ago.
He was a role model, King said, and someone who inspired many African Americans.
Most were shocked when they learned about his death Thursday morning.
“It was an empty feeling,” said Ivan Bush, an equal employment opportunity officer for Spokane School District 81. “He was a person who exemplified life and happiness. (His suicide) was just unbelievable.”
A leader in Spokane’s African American community, Maxey was revered by people of all races. His name was dropped at dinner parties. His face was instantly recognizable in a crowd.
He donated money to various causes, including the building of a new juvenile justice center. Thrown out of an orphanage during the Depression because of his race, Maxey was placed in a juvenile detention facility without committing a crime.
“We know the shameful conditions at the existing juvenile detention facility,” he wrote in a 1994 letter to juvenile court officials, and enclosed a $1,000 check.
“This donation is our chance to pay back a little of our debt as we have tried to do on a daily basis.”
He was a mentor to many, including Marlin Clark, former president of the African-American Forum. “Young man, let me help you survive in Spokane,” he once told Clark during a meeting.
Maxey became his friend, Clark said. He was always there for him with support and guidance.
Maxey also was gregarious and positive, said the Rev. Percy “Happy” Watkins, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church.
Watkins was working as a clerk at a Spokane grocery store when he first met Maxey. “He treated me the same way he would treat a senator or congressman,” Watkins said.
Sometimes, Watkins would call Maxey late at night to ask him legal questions. Often, he would interrupt Maxey’s dinner at a restaurant by calling on his cellular phone. Maxey never complained.
“He was never too busy,” Watkins said. “He was always there for people. Not just black people, but all people.”
Maxey always stood up for his beliefs, said Carl Naccarato, general manager at the Ridpath Hotel and a friend of Maxey’s for more than 20 years.
During brunch one recent morning at Ankeny’s, Naccarato, Maxey and their wives overheard a couple at a nearby table using racial slurs to refer to African Americans.
Instead of ignoring them, Maxey walked up to their table and told them he was offended by their language.
“They were so embarrassed,” recalled Naccarato. “He taught them a lesson.”
Maxey wasn’t one who kept opinions to himself, said Edward Thomas Jr., a friend of Maxey’s for 18 years.
Especially when it came to human rights.
“Carl was a humanitarian,” Thomas said. “He tried his best to make this world a better place for all people.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 photos
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