*There couldn’t have been a better place to pay tribute to the late, famed attorney Leo Branton jr. than the California African American History Museum adjacent to the USC campus in Exposition Park this past Friday as hundreds gathered to salute him and his accomplishments.
Folks, I got to tell you something. Before there was a Johnny Cochran, there was Leo Branton jr. who was a trailblazer in law, and represented so many on a list of who’s who in entertainment, and civil rights, that’s there’s probably not enough room here to print. But just to name a few, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandrige, the Jimi Hendrix estate, and most notably the case of Angela Davis.
This is the case in which a young man named Jonathan Jackson entered a courtroom in Marin County in the summer of 1970, and was armed with an arsenal of weapons and attempted to free three inmates who were on trial there. He and two of the inmates along with presiding judge Harold Haley, the prosecutor, and a court recorder were killed following a shootout with the California Highway Patrol that occurred in the courthouse parking lot as they were attempting to make their escape. This was an incident that received national attention due to the fact that the weapons that were used were registered to Angela Davis, who was put on the F.B.I. most wanted list, hunted down, and ultimately was captured after nearly two months.
Jonathan Jackson was the younger brother of George Jackson who was one of the infamous “Soledad Brothers” a group of inmates who were also on trial for the killing of a correctional officer at the California State Prison at Soledad.
It was Leo Branton was took the lead and worked with attorney Howard Moore to develop a strategy that ultimately won Angela’s freedom as she was aquited of all the charges against her.
There was another case that must be taken note of, and that is the that one that took place on the morning of December 8, 1969.
The Southern Calif. Chapter of the Black Panther Party headquarters was located at 4115 So. Central ave., and it was there that members of the Los Angeles Police Department attempted to enter at 4:30 a.m. with a search warrant and were met with gunfire coming from inside.
An ensuing gun battle took place for the next five hours that resulted in four Panthers shot and wounded, and four police officers shot.
Three other Panther locations were raided that morning and altogether twenty six people were arrested and charged with conspiracy to kill the police, possession of illegal weapons, and a whole list of other charges.
And although there were several other attorneys representing each of the Panthers, it was Leo Branton who came in and took the lead, and at the end of the day, was successful in getting all the Panthers exonerated of the charges.
The list of dignitaries who came to pay tribute to this great man included Diane Watson, Robert Farrell, Nate Holden, Ramona Ripson of the American Civil Liberties Union, Superior Court Judge Allen Webster, former Black Panther Roland Freeman who himself was wounded in the shootout at the Black Panther Headquarters in 1969, attorney Howard Moore who worked with Leo Branton to secure Angela Davis’ freedom, and none other than Angela Davis herself.
Leo’s brother Sterling spoke of how he was very knowledgeable on issues and would often debate with his friends and would never back down on the positions that he took. And if someone would disagree with him he would always call them idiots (with a sense of humor).
His son, Tony Nicholas served as the emcee for this historic event.
I’ve been friends with one of his other sons “Chipper” Branton for some forty years now, and I remember the two of them coming out to Orange County during the final day of Geronimo Pratt’s evidentiary hearing that resulted in Johnnie Cochran securing Pratt’s freedom. It was a joyous occasion as we were all together on that historic day.
And the last time I was able to speak to him was at the Pan African Film Festival this year at the reception following the screening of the documentary film “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners”(a must see film)
Leo Branton jr. was one of our Black American heroes as he fought and got justice for us, and wasn’t afraid to do so.
May God’s Peace and Blessings be upon him.
Southern California based Mohammed Mubarak, a portrait artist as well, can be contacted at [email protected] for your comments.