Alton Toussaint Lemon — 1928-2013 »

It’s funny and somewhat amazing, the things you learn after someone dies. Death turns friends and family into storytellers. When my granddad passed in 1995 (I was 14), I can recall hearing countless stories of his fearless fights in the Philadelphia civil rights movement starting way back when. A decorated WWII veteran, it wasn’t until after he died that I was even made aware that he had served in the Army. I didn’t realize the reasoning behind why everybody seemed to know him when we would gallivant around the city when I was a kid. It’s only after he was gone that I began to know him as others did.

Family reunions were a yearly thing. I come from a relatively large family, so getting together — all of us — was and is a big deal. Among hoards of cousins and all of my aunts and uncles, were some very close family friends. Among them, the Lemons. Mr. and Mrs. Lemon — as we addressed them — were staples at family functions. Mr. Lemon was one of my granddad’s closest friends. These gatherings almost always took place at granddad’s house. Ribs — along with countless other foods I wish I could make now — badminton, Pabst, fun conversation, and laughs made up those days that I still miss to this day. Mr. Lemon was always a part of that. Until recently, I thought Mr. Lemon was just a family friend that my grandparents had met somewhere along the way.

A few years ago, we drove down to Philly to visit the Lemons. Even though he had advanced Alzheimer’s, Mr. Lemon remembered us. Maybe not all the small stuff, but he remembered. After a long battle, my mom got the news that Mr. Lemon had passed away a couple of weeks ago. Last night, she shared a piece that ran in this past Saturday’s New York Times. From the article:

Mr. Lemon’s lawsuit challenged a 1968 Pennsylvania law that reimbursed religious schools for some expenses, including teachers’ salaries and textbooks, so long as they related to instruction on secular subjects also taught in the public schools.

Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, writing for the court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, said the law violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion.

The ruling set out what came to be known as the Lemon test, which requires courts to consider whether the challenged government practice has a secular purpose, whether its primary effect is to advance or inhibit religion, and whether it fosters excessive government entanglement with religion.

Another shining example of learning about someone’s amazing legacy after they’ve gone. The most incredible thing to me is how modest and kind these folks were. You’d have no idea that they had accomplished such huge feats. It’s the kind of behavior that we should all strive to.

I’m by no means religious, but I’d like to think that somewhere, Mr. Lemon and granddad, are sitting in a backyard, Pabst in-hand, shooting the breeze about the old days. Rest well, Mr. Lemon.