One Philadelphian Reflects on Another

by JSPAN Board member Ted Mann Ragan Henry died last month. He was, in the words of The Philadelphia Inquirer, "a pioneering media mogul, an active participant in Philadelphia's civic life, and one of the region's richest African Americans." Reading his obituary brought back both warm personal memories and renewed appreciation of the immense social upheavals of the 1960s. It was mid-1961 when Judge Raymond Pace Alexander called me (in 1955 I had assisted him in an early attempt to desegregate Girard College) and asked whether my three-person law firm, Narin, Garfinkel & Mann, might be interested in hiring a young black Harvard law school graduate – top third of his class – who had so far failed to find employment in any large big-city firm. We were the beneficiaries of the bigotry throughout the land, and Ragan became our very first associate. This was three years before the Kennedy-Johnson Civil Rights legislation, and before most of the major Philadelphia law firms were hiring even Jewish law graduates, no matter how sterling their qualifications, much less black law graduates, even those with Ragan’s extraordinary skills. “Affirmative action” was not yet in our vocabulary. In 1964 that quite suddenly changed. Many of our largest law firms began hiring Jews, even in some profusion, and searched for at least a “token” black. By 1965 we had merged our firm – now six lawyers in all – into a much larger firm and Ragan in the late sixties, by that time a partner, would join me in interviewing second year law students at Harvard and Yale and other law schools in the fierce competition to find and hire the best and the brightest. There had been such a nationwide attitudinal shift by then that 22 year-old law students were asking interviewers what their law firm was doing to bring about societal change in America. Not much later we went our own ways. We both remained Philadelphia lawyers, but Ragan increasingly turned his attention and talents to acquiring radio stations. The decade of the sixties is often recalled for its tragic events. But for many it is remembered as the decade when the impossible became possible.