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When Michael Haygood joined Holland & Knight as a partner in its West Palm Beach, Fla., office three years ago, he and his new boss, Tampa-based managing partner Bill McBride, soon discovered they had a lot in common. But the real eye-opener was how much they didn’t have in common. Haygood, 50, and McBride, 55, both grew up in the central Florida town of Leesburg. As children, they lived under a system of racial segregation that pervaded every aspect of life. As young men, they witnessed the epic civil rights struggles of the ’50s and ’60s. But they experienced this common history from two distinct vantage points. Haygood is black and McBride is white. Now the two lawyers have formed a partnership separate from their professional affiliation at Florida’s largest law firm. They’re participating in a statewide speaking program called “Same Town, Different Lives,” sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council. The project is designed to help Floridians understand how racial segregation affected the people who lived through it. In their presentations, Haygood and McBride compare and contrast growing up on opposite sides of the color line. Even as a child, Haygood knew things were different outside of Leesburg. Every summer, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit his father, who worked as a hotel waiter. In Leesburg, he had to ride in the back of the bus. In Washington, he was free to sit wherever he pleased. In Leesburg, segregation was “as total as in any other part of the South,” Haygood says. He lived with his mother, who was a hairdresser, and his older sister in a neighborhood with unpaved streets. He went to an all-black school, with an all-black teaching staff, where the books were always second-hand. At the local movie house, Haygood had to sit in the blacks-only balcony. Drinking from a water fountain marked for blacks only, he wondered if the whites-only water tasted better. “It didn’t really trouble me though,” he says. “Everything was like that.” McBride also grew up in modest circumstances, the son of a TV repairman. He recalls that segregation was so pervasive and widely accepted that he took little notice of it. The Ku Klux Klan once marched down Leesburg’s main street, and “Dixie” was played at football games. But, as a Roman Catholic, McBride felt a certain separateness from the mainstream white community, which was predominantly Baptist. He and his family were friendly with the Jewish families in town. But he had no personal contact with blacks, either adults or children. “Segregation depended on total adherence,” McBride says. “Any breach could have bred familiarity –and even understanding.” BACKED UP WITH FORCE But lest anyone think that blacks and whites happily cooperated in maintaining segregation, the two lawyers offer reminders that Leesburg’s color barrier was kept in place by force. McBride’s portion of the “Same Town, Different Lives” program includes a lengthy discussion of the county sheriff, Willis McCall. “The prototype Southern sheriff, proudly racist,” says McBride. McCall’s nearly 30-year reign over Lake County included two notorious cases of black men accused of raping white women, the alleged use of manufactured evidence, and allegations that McCall, without justification, shot and killed a suspect in his custody. McCall was suspended in 1972 for allegedly kicking a black prisoner to death. For all the injustice, both men say each community was nurturing to its own kind. McBride remembers a total lack of class distinctions in Leesburg’s white community, and adults looking out for everyone’s children. Haygood speaks of the pride his classmates took in their all-black school. Haygood participated in civil rights history when, following a 1964 court desegregation order, he and a group of fellow black students enrolled in the formerly all-white Leesburg High School. Haygood did this despite the entreaties of his classmates at all-black Carver Heights High, because he felt challenged by white society’s notion that blacks were academically inferior. “I wanted to dispel that,” he says. McBride had already graduated from Leesburg High by that time. The racism Haygood encountered at Leesburg High was low-key. “No n-word, no fights,” he says. For the most part, he was simply ostracized by white students. When he did socialize with them, he had to tone down his style of dress, foregoing the James Brown look in favor of the Beatles. “Assimilation was a one-way street,” he says wryly. More painful was that his black friends still at Carver Heights High also spurned him. They viewed his transfer as a personal slight. “That hurt the most,” Haygood says. PAINFUL ADJUSTMENTS After graduation, Haygood felt he’d done his duty to the cause of integration and returned to an all-black academic setting, Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he studied political science. “If I got screwed over there, I knew it wasn’t because I was black,” he says. In 1972, Haygood entered law school at the University of Florida. It was a learning period for the institution, he says. Blacks made up just 5 percent of the law school student body, and many whites looked down on them, thinking they wouldn’t be there except for affirmative action. He says the black students at that point were “still martyrs.” In his first job out of law school, Haygood worked for Florida Rural Legal Services in Belle Glade, where he served the disadvantaged of all colors. But he admits he took that job only because it was the best he was offered. “It was a rude awakening,” he says of his first search for a law job. “There were no calls from the big law firms.” Haygood spent the following years as a partner at his own all-black firm, Haygood & William in West Palm Beach. It later merged with the Atlanta-based firm Mack & Bernstein, which was integrated but led by black attorneys. Haygood focused his practice on civil law, government contracts and real estate. In 1998, after collaborating with Holland & Knight’s Fort Lauderdale office on a product liability case, he joined Holland’s West Palm Beach office. During the interview process, a Holland attorney mentioned the coincidence that Haygood and Bill McBride, the firm’s managing partner, had grown up in the same small town. Though the two had grown up about a mile apart, Haygood had never met McBride and didn’t remember the name from his youth. COMPARING NOTES Then the two men met for the first time at a Holland partners’ meeting in Clearwater. They compared notes on their youths and discovered they’d both loved the same hamburger joint in Leesburg. But McBride ate while sitting at the counter, while Haygood stood and ordered through the back door. Each man walked away from the encounter with great respect for the other’s achievements. McBride says he felt “overwhelmed,” because Haygood “had overcome so much more than I.” Haygood was struck by McBride’s feats as a Vietnam War hero, business dynamo and social activist. “The guy’s the perfect straight arrow,” he says. McBride, who at that time sat on the board of directors of the Florida Humanities Council, had attended a council program called “Parallel Lives,” in which black journalist Bill Maxwell and white novelist Beverly Coyle discussed their life experiences. McBride realized that his and Haygood’s lives offered an even more striking case study of growing up under segregation. Last year, McBride proposed to Haygood that they do a similar presentation; the latter agreed. The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Florida Department of State agreed to sponsor their program. The two did their first presentation in Leesburg in November. A videotape of the event shows a biracial hometown crowd, mostly middle-aged but with some children present, warmly welcoming the returning sons. Audience members brought up lighter moments of their youth — Haygood’s appearance in superhero costume at a school play, McBride’s football heroics. But when the two men discussed their memories of the town’s racial history, there was silence. Haygood hopes the people of Leesburg will reflect on what they said, and that the town’s whites and blacks will grow closer as a result. “The point of remembrance is to deal with the past without bitterness,” he says. LESSONS LEARNED Both men say they’ve learned a lot about Leesburg — and about themselves — from participating in the program. McBride now holds certain memories in a different light. “There were years when I swam in the swimming pool, and Michael couldn’t go,” he says. Haygood says he was surprised to realize that Leesburg’s whites were in many ways more isolated and ignorant than the town’s black residents. The blacks knew a lot of things that whites didn’t. “When you’re the minority, you’re much more exposed to the majority, rather than vice-versa,” he says. While Haygood has seen Jim Crow crumble, he’s deeply concerned about the more subtle racial problems that remain. The doors have been opened a little bit, he says, but it’s still not a level playing field for whites and blacks. He believes that law schools need to continue affirmative action admissions policies, and is deeply troubled by court rulings that are killing this approach. “You don’t fix hundreds of years of discrimination that quickly,” he says. But he sees some black law graduates doing reasonably well — as long as they have the right network of contacts. “Most successful black attorneys have gone to the larger law schools or have relationships with other black attorneys in corporate America,” he says. McBride’s concerns about racial and social justice are evident in Holland & Knight policies that he’s helped established. Three percent, or about $4.2 million, of the firm’s annual billings are devoted to pro bono. That pays for a firmwide team that does exclusively pro bono work, under the direction of partner Stephen F. Hanlon. The diversity of Holland’s attorneys — there are about 50 black partners among the firm’s 600 partners — also reflect McBride’s values. “We’re trying to make diversity a competitive advantage,” McBride says. Haygood and McBride are bringing their “Same Town, Different Lives” road show to several Florida cities in the next three months. They’ll appear on May 17 in Tampa, May 24 in Jacksonville, June 8 on Amelia Island, and July 26 in Coral Gables. Haygood thinks it particularly important to address today’s young people, both black and white, who he fears are indifferent to the past and complacent about the future. “We’ve already lost a generation of black men,” he says. “We can’t ignore our history. We have to learn from it.”

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