Defending Freedom: The Arthur D. Shores Story

Watch the trailer for Defending Freedom, the story of Birmingham-native, Arthur D. Shores, and his impact as Alabama's first African-American trial attorney.

Premiering Thursday, February 15 at 8PM

For a decade, Arthur Shores stood alone as the only Black attorney in the state of Alabama once he passed the bar exam in 1938. His success as a lawyer rallied others to stand with him in the fight for equality and justice. Shores took the fight to the courtroom, winning many significant cases leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Barbara Shores, Arthur Shores’s daughter, leads the discussion of her father’s role in civil rights history in Defending Freedom: The Arthur D. Shores Story. Directed by Joel Evans, the documentary features interviews from Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, former Alabama Senator Doug Jones, President of Talladega College Gregory Vincent and former Alabama 10th Judicial Circuit Judge Houston Brown as they come together to reflect on the monumental impact of Shores’s legacy.

Defending Freedom is an Alabama Public Television original produced in association with Jacksonville State University.

Defending Freedom shows us how Shores’s tenacity manifested long before his attorney career. He went to great lengths to make sure he received an education from Talladega College, Alabama’s first private liberal arts college dedicated to serving the Black community. As a senior, he ran out of funding to cover his education. He made a business of washing, ironing and mending clothes for men in the dormitories, as well as shining shoes. His work ethic and persevering attitude remained with him as he underwent a period of struggle to pass the Alabama bar exams. Segregation laws would not allow him to study at the University of Alabama to become a lawyer. Taking matters into his own hands yet again, Shores completed an extension program with LaSalle in Chicago, and after several failed attempts, finally passed the bar exam.

Shores may not have been in the spotlight with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but his work as a civil rights attorney was equally important and effective. Defending Freedom details the impact he made by winning crucial cases. In 1939, one of Shores’s first cases involved police brutality, a case that usually ended with a white officer walking free after assaulting a Black individual. It was a feat unheard of at the time when Shores won the case for Will Hall, a Black man who had been wrongfully beaten by a white officer. Shores also won two cases against the Jefferson County Board of Education to equalize pay for Black and white teachers. In the 1940s, Shores yet again won in the supreme court case Steele v. L.N. Railroad to help a Black railroad worker get a promotion after 31 years of service to the company. Shores’s successes in changing law, however, did not go unnoticed by those who fought against change.

“You can’t hate them, Barbara. That will only destroy you.” These are words Barbara Shores remembered her father saying after the first bombing of their home. Black communities were red lined to divide them from white communities. Defending Freedom explains the racial zoning and violence suffered if any Black family purchased a home too close to the white neighborhoods. The Ku Klux Klan bombed Shores’s home twice after he filed a lawsuit against red lining communities. The federal district judge declared the Birmingham housing segregation laws unconstitutional. The attacks on his home did not deter Shores from his path. In Defending Freedom, Barbara Shores praises her father’s calm, steady and resolute mindset to protect and better the lives of Black Americans in the way he could: changing America’s laws.

Defending Freedom is raw and intimate in telling Shores’s story. The cases he won in the face of life-threatening adversity were building blocks to passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Jacksonville State University and Illuminate Films reminds us with this documentary that the Civil Rights Movement was not that long ago, and Shores’s story still inspires incoming generations to speak up for equality and make change for all.

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