Bucks County Herald

Charles Meredith:

“The Sun Does Shine”

Dear Friends,

Good morning. Before I get to Anthony Ray Hinton’s new book about living nearly 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit; plus the new publisher of the New York Times’ clash with President Trump; here’s Mighty Betsy’s and my tribute to Sandra Fickes of Deep Run who died at age 82.

She was the former wife of Gene Fickes, the president of Deep Run Packing Company near Dublin. He was an entrepreneur and major philanthropist in the region. But it was his wife, Sandy, who influenced the family.

“The mother of three, Sandy valued education and was proud that each of her children graduated from college,” her obituary began. “She played a quiet but important role in the success of the family operated business.

Sandy served as an elder at the Presbyterian Church of Deep Run and was a positive influence on the church for decades. She served on the boards of the Bucks County Symphony, Heritage Conservancy, Lenape Valley Foundation, Samuel Pierce Free Library, and the Village Improvement Association, owner of Doylestown Hospital. She was a founding board member of both Americans for Native Americans and the Pennridge Music Association. She was the chair of the Red Cross Bloodmobile at Doylestown Hospital.

Sandy was a strong supporter of my candidacy for Bucks County Commissioner in 1967. She was a tireless leader, which Mighty Betsy and I appreciated greatly. Sandy’s life was exemplary. We will miss her.

And on politics, the new publisher of the New York Times wasted no time in criticizing President Trump for his incendiary comments about journalists. A.G. Sulzberger, the grandson of our friend “Punch” Sulzberger, believes that Trump’s anti-press rhetoric has been echoed by authoritarian leaders around the world.

“I told him [Trump] that although the phrase ‘Fake News’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labelling journalists ‘the enemy of the people,’” Sulzberger said. “I warned the president that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”

Trump’s meeting with Sulzberger took place three weeks after a shooting rampage at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Md., in which five people were killed. But after those deaths, Trump has continued to describe journalists as the “enemy of the people.”

It’s no wonder that armed guards are now policing newsrooms across the country. In nearby Allentown, The Morning Call has armed guards at its entrance. I used to write columns for “The Call.” Our daughter Catherine was a photo journalist there.

In 1787, it was Thomas Jefferson who wrote about the importance of a free press to keep government in check. Jefferson concluded, “If I had to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

No, this president continues to sow the seeds of discontent and divide the nation. The sooner he loses power or his office, the better.

And now to my review of Anthony Ray Hinton’s new book, “The Sun Does Shine.” The book names the 1,080 men and women who sit on death row in America. Statistically, one out of every 10 men on this list is innocent. The author asks readers to read through the names. Each has a family, a story, a series of choices and events that have led to a life spent in a cage.

The author asks us to judge who deserves to live and who deserves to die? This is what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote about the Hinton case: “If this court had not ordered that Anthony Ray Hinton receive further hearings in state court, he may well have been executed rather than exonerated.”

“In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama,” the book cover reads. “Stunned, confused and only 29 years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free.

“But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on death row in agonizing silence, full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death.

“But Hinton resolved to find a way to live on death row. For the next 27 years, he was a beacon, transforming his own spirit and those of his fellow inmates, 54 of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. He founded a prison book group, which helped its members to talk about their own lives, regrets, and ides. With the help of Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights attorney and bestselling author of ‘Just Mercy,’ Hinton won his release in 2015.”

The book is a fast read and deserves your attention. I thought of my old friend, Francis Ballard who convinced me that my previous views about the death penalty were full of error. Francis would have agreed with the author’s conclusion:

“The death penalty is broken, and you are either part of the Death Squad or you are banging on the bars.”

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

And speaking of Thomas Jefferson. on the verge of death, he designed his own gravestone and epitaph: “Author of the Declaration of Independence; author of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom; and Father of the University of Virginia.”

Note, he didn’t mention that he was President of the United States.


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