Rushing to the offices of Parker, Hudson, Rainer and Dobbs on the Tuesday morning following the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington to meet with one of the principals, J. Marbury Rainer was more momentous than I could have imagined.
Marbury has served on Georgia Justice Project’s board since 2012. However, his ties to the organization go way back to the beginning as one of GJP’s first supporters when its founder, John Pickens did his first ask amongst his friends, peers and colleagues in 1986. At that time, Marbury was awed by John’s courage to give up his lucrative career as an attorney, first with King and Spalding (where they both worked) and then with Kidd, Pickens & Tate to pursue his goal to launch the Georgia Justice Project. Marbury’s support has grown continually over the years from writing checks to leading fund drives at the firm to eventually serving on GJP’s board and being part of its Executive Committee.
As Marbury and I talked, he shared his recollections of how things were for him growing up in Selma, Alabama (his hometown) during the turbulent 60s and the impact it had on him and his community. Although he believes most people he knew during that time were racist in the Victorian sense, viewing African-Americans as the “White Man’s Burden”, they would never consider resorting to violence as a response to change. Listening to Marbury talk as he recounted the events of the March on Selma and the aftermath of the encounter (“Bloody Sunday” as it was coined) was extremely poignant and revealing of the sentiment many in his community felt of the movement. The violence of that day was despicable and considered idiotic by most in his world. It was at this point that Marbury realized that things would never be and should never be the same. The Selma experience opened his eyes to the ugliness of violence and the realization that there was a major flaw in the whole separate but equal ideology. As someone who had never attended an integrated school, Marbury did not have his first close interaction with African-Americans on equal footing until attending college at the University of Alabama.
After college, Marbury served for two years in the U.S. army in the Republic of Panama. He became close friends with two African-American brothers, Gary and Michael Steele, both West Point graduates, who were instrumental in forever changing how he viewed others. He realized how strange and artificial segregation was. The experience demonstrated for him the transformative power of association. This was Marbury’s introduction to the true meaning of the New Testament and he has been an active participant in the quest for a just society.
Marbury shared how his story and life has been a constant rumble and tumble against the backdrop of history. He sees himself politically and economically conservative who is also at times a social liberal. He strongly believes in the wholeness of family and is an active Board member of the Atlanta Community Ministries which works with organizations that support those in need, with a special emphasis on young, urban African-American males. He is concerned that fatherless children and families with no male in the household are becoming an increasing reality for too many families of all races.
Marbury sees both the Georgia Justice Project and the Atlanta Community Ministries as a combined ministry which allows him to serve in the area of his “sweet spot” for the population he believes needs him most. Marbury has aligned himself with GJP because we not only serve the legal needs of our clients but the whole person which fits well with his spiritual beliefs.
A devout Christian and family man, Marbury and his wife Kathy have been married for 36 years. They have two adult sons and share a close family relationship. Marbury believes that a core New Testament message is that there is no difference between races and genders, and that this was one of the most important themes of the Civil Rights movement. He cautions us to be mindful of the spiritual beginnings of the movement as the fiber that brought people from all races and backgrounds together.
“From a societal standpoint, everybody needs to figure out a way to make this work better—it’s all of our jobs to work on the needs in our community. GJP works with people with so many needs and it [GJP] is the very best at what it is doing.”