On Friday, Nov 4, from 2-4 PM in the McGriff Alumni House, Jerry Summers, C’63, will be signing copies of his fascinating book, Rush to Justice, a book about a mid-century politician, Raulston Schoolfield. The book signing is part of Homecoming celebrations this year, and alumni have the opportunity to meet an author who is fascinating in his own right.
Reading Rush to Justice is to walk with Summers as he solves the enigma of a compelling public speaker and politician whose political base was in the African-American community yet ran for Governor as a segregationist, who was a brilliant jurist and judge who nonetheless consorted with criminals which contributed to his disbarment and impeachment. In fact, Summers originally wanted to call his book Schoolfield: An Enigma, but was persuaded the title was too limiting. Reading the book, it is easy to imagine the exhaustive work in archives, turning over pieces of paper and following the trail, trying to piece together the character of a man who was part scoundrel, part inspiring leader.
Summers’ interest in this enigmatic character gradually grew from his school days through his career in the law. After the publication of his book, The Turtle and the Lawyer, a memoir, Summers felt compelled to do the research on Schoolfield, who was impeached when Summers was in high school. As with his first book, it is clear that Summers is a relentless story teller, and he is a thorough, even comprehensive researcher. The book is illustrated by copies of many of the original documents, and the Schoolfield story is worthy of cinematic treatment.
Summers, himself, also has what is apparently a flawless recognition of the signal moment, which undoubtedly helped him in his career as a trial attorney. For his own story, that moment might be the time he hit the double to right center, ending the season of the opposing team or the time he missed the last shot in the state basketball championship, a game his team lost. And these memories are sharp, even after decades.
“I was a jock,” Summers says of his beginnings. His journey to Sewanee came about through athletics. A good showing in youth baseball in Florida, where his family lived for a few years in the 1950s, brought him to the attention of Stan Farmer, famed football coach at Chattanooga’s Central High School. His career there led to a partial baseball scholarship at Auburn, which gave him tuition, used books, and a job at Toomer’s Corner waiting tables at the Auburn Grille.
“I didn’t distinguish myself in baseball enough to get a full scholarship at Auburn,” he says, but a friend in Chattanooga, Sammy Joyce put him in touch with Sewanee basketball coach Lon Varnell. Summers passed the entry exam for Sewanee and then went on to play basketball for Varnell and baseball for Shirley Majors. Summers graduated from Sewanee, which he asserts is a key reason he was able to attend University of Tennessee Law School, at first on a scholarship.
Some time last fall, just before he appeared at the annual alumni brunch to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of the South, Jerry Summers, C’63, stopped by Sewanee to visit Wayne Olson, former director of planned giving at Sewanee. While there, he dropped off the manuscript for Rush to Justice. “This book has real commercial potential,” said Olson. “The character is a compelling one and the stories are just fascinating.” Olson added that Summers is a meticulous researcher and knows the stories of many of the characters surrounding Schoolfield, better than many knew at the time. “And even though Summers is one of the most renowned and respected lawyers in the country, he has a remarkable sense of humility and admiration for those around him.”
For those visiting Sewanee at Homecoming, be sure to stop by to meet or renew acquaintance with a humble and eminently talented attorney and raconteur in Jerry Summers. For a preview of the book, read Summers’ article, “Raulston Schoolfield made enemies in his rise to power,” published in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press in January on Schoolfield which provides an apt summary of the book: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/opinion/columns/story/2016/jan/31/summers-raulstschoolfield-controversial-law/347187/.