Citizen Lane: Unstoppable agitator pens lively memoir
His backyard in Charlottesville's Bellair neighborhood is far removed from the jungle of Guyana, and the grandfatherly man relaxing in a patio chair doesn't seem the type to tangle with murderous henchmen of the late Jim Jones. But here he is, a man who grabbed a knife-wielding arm and escaped from Jonestown on the day that over 900 Americans died.
This is also the lawyer who freed a Florida father likely framed for murdering his children, the defense counselor who convinced a jury of an unjust government prosecution at Wounded Knee, and the first person who systematically tried to prove that the killers of JFK and MLK weren't lone gunmen.
Along the way, Lane helped promote the fledgling career of folk music legend Pete Seeger and organized a 1957 speech by Martin Luther King Jr. (on the back of a truck, no less). There was a time when practically everyone in the world– even Paul McCartney– knew Mark Lane. Now, they just know his impact.
"Well, he could'na done it, could he?" the then 22-year-old Beatle telephoned Lane one night in 1965 after the musician, having met Lane at a small party in London, borrowed his only manuscript of Rush to Judgment.
The first of Lane's books to challenge the Warren Commission, Rush to Judgment may no longer be gospel, as subsequent forensic evidence has convinced many mainstream historians of the veracity of the angry-young-Oswald and the single-bullet theory. Lane maintains that popular sentiment shows he's right.
It's hard to argue with the man who had a hunch that an African-American man named James Richardson had been railroaded into a death sentence by officials in Arcadia, Florida. After 21 years behind bars, Richardson was walked out of jail by Lane– "the happiest day of my professional life," Lane says of that April day in 1989.
The New York native arrived in Charlottesville seven years ago to help his sister, Ann Lane, who long ran the UVA Women's Studies department. She moved to New York, but he– thrilled by the climate, intellectual and otherwise– remained.
"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea whose time is yet to come," he writes in Citizen Lane, his new autobiography which recounts six decades of pushing for justice in the courtroom and on the streets. For instance, he enlisted famous friends like Coretta Scott King and Dick Gregory to prod officials for Richardson's freedom.
"I find the court system works better when you put a lot of pressure on it," says Lane, "because the status quo is very strong."
Sitting in his backyard, he tells a reporter that the First Amendment is the most important part of the Constitution. He and Jane Fonda relied upon that one to help veterans document the ways in which the American policy of comparing body-counts in the war in Vietnam could lead to atrocities.
As for action, Lane was one of the few who really was a Freedom Rider, the agitators with the then-audacious idea that people of different races should be able to ride a bus and enjoy a cup of coffee together. (Julian Bond later found the mugshot of Lane from his 1961 arrest in Jackson, Mississippi, and sent it to him.)
At the age of 85, Lane says he now plans to transition to writing novels. But one has to wonder: How could fiction be any zestier than Lane's life?Read more on: Mark Lane