His Own True Self

He sits and smiles,

Douglas (“Doug”) Hall at home in Wabasha

His dog Sparky
Resting against his leg,
His eyebrows hanging
Like willow branches.

The bell has tolled
For him, a tolling
Like a wind-song
From the North
Marking the end.

He sits and smiles,
Peaceful, thankful,
Accepting, connecting
With those he loves,
Caring for those he will leave

The earth, his home,
Calls him to itself,
Beyond eternal claims
Or expectations,
He sits at peace

Mortal flesh he knows
Cannot prolong itself,
Nor should it seek what it
Cannot attain
Beyond its measure.

No control of time
Which bears us all away,
No need to storm
The barricades now
Against the end of time.

He sits and smiles
In gratitude
For wonders of sun and shadow,
For all creatures great and small,
For family love and friends.

For these he sits and smiles –
This self-disclaiming man
Who intended nothing
But his own true self
In whatever time was his.

– Gordon C. Stewart, October 2, 2004

Doug Hall was a giant of a man. He was revered throughout the state of Minnesota as the quintessential “street lawyer” in Minneapolis, a nationally known labor lawyer who left his practice to become the founding Director of The Legal Rights Center, Inc, “a law firm of, by, and for the people.” The people were indigent American Indians and African-Americans.

A few days after receiving the call from Doug and Mary with the news that Doug had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Kay and I spent time with them at the farm near Wabasha, MN. Kay captured a picture of Doug that day with his dog Sparky.I went home and wrote a reflection that later became the opening words of the Memorial Celebration for his life.

A former Chief Judge in Minnesota’s Fourth District Court recalled pulling Doug aside one day into his chambers.

“Doug, I thought you should know a lot of people are talking around the courthouse.”

“Hmmm,” said Doug.

“They’re saying that you’re a communist.”

Re-telling the story all these years later, the Judge starts to laugh and pauses. I beg the question: “What did Doug say?”

Through laughter and tears, he says, “He smiled and said, ‘Hmmm..and what’s their point?'”

His memorial service was a rare event: a collection of street people, former clients, MN Supreme Court Justices, a U.S. District Court Judge who began his legal career with Doug as his mentor, the founders of the American Indian Movement (“AIM”) and African American community leaders, colleagues and friends, Indian drumming, and the sounds of Paul Robeson and Old Joe Hill. The Poem “His Own True Self” opened his Memorial Celebration in Wabasha followed by these words:

We are a diverse bunch.  We are the colors of the rainbow.  We are rich and dead broke.  We are former defendants and former fellow counsel.  We are Supreme Court Justices and District Court Judges – and we are “customers” of the court system and the corrections system.  We are public defenders and prosecutors, probation officers and corrections officers, restorative justice practitioners, legislators, union organizers and people from the streets. But mostly we are just people who all share the same destiny, the same dependence and interdependence.  And no one here is to be treated with more honor than another.

Doug Hall with Sparky