Oral history interview with Thomas Keith
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Growth of legal services and anti-poverty work in the 1960s; anti-war movement, lawsuit by the legal clinic at the University of Alabama against the State of Alabama welfare system (legal clinic obtained proof the State was racially discriminatory in setting benefits, resulting in the State cutting benefits for the legal clinic at the University); bar opposition to legal services (while the Huntsville Bar was more accepting of legal services than the bars in other locales in the state, Alabama judges were still hostile to legal services); importance of Reggie and VISTA programs, helpful trainings provided by the LSC to the legal aid organizations’ staff; rapid growth for Legal Services of North Central Alabama during period of increased funding under the President Carter administration, ensuring a minimum level of representation; staffing and operation of Legal Services of North Central Alabama, which served five different counties in North Alabama; case load, client councils, impact of the decrease in the budget and subsequent decrease in staff under the President Reagan Administration in the mid-1980s; consequences of the amendments to the Truth in Lending Act eliminate many of the claims the poor had against financing institutions; IOLTA funds, disastrous consequences of elimination of Title XX under the Social Security Act for Legal Services of North Central Alabama, political opposition by members of the United Way Board against funding legal services in Alabama; support by LSC Clearinghouse with addressing complex legal problems; establishment of the Legal Aid Consortium.
Thomas Keith is from Fort Payne, Alabama. He graduated from Auburn University in 1968 and from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1972. At the time of the interview, Mr. Keith was Executive Director of Legal Services of North Central Alabama. Between college and beginning law school in the fall of 1970, he spent two years working in Atlanta, where he was involved in the anti-war movement. He was interested in doing anti-poverty work, and was working with the legal clinic at the University of Alabama School of Law, where he worked directly with legal aid clients on many significant Alabama cases. After graduating from law school in 1972, Mr. Keith went to work with the Legal Aid Society program in Huntsville, AL, which had been started by the Huntsville Bar Association with Model Cities funding. The program later changed its name to Legal Services of North Central Alabama and then became part of Legal Services Alabama, which is supported by the LSC. Legal Services of North Central Alabama focused on civil law cases, divorces, child placements, tenant’s rights, consumer rights, and access to welfare benefits (food stamp screening and food stamp advocacy).
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