Self-taught authorized defender of civil rights is lifeless at 64 | Newsline

Alvin Sykes, who dropped out of high school in eighth grade, finished his education reading textbooks in the public library and later used his extensive legal knowledge to track down long-dormant civil rights-era murders – including the 1955 lynching – of Emmett Till – died March 19 in a hospice facility in Shawnee, Kansas. He was 64 years old.

The cause was complications from a fall two years ago that partially paralyzed him, said Ajamu Webster, a longtime friend.

Though he never passed bar exams, Sykes was a brilliant lawyer whose admirers included councilors, politicians, and US attorneys general from both parties.

“Alvin Sykes was an excellent attorney, better than I ever was,” said David Haley, a Kansas state senator, in an interview. “I’ve seen him argue about the law in front of appellate judges. He naturally understood the law. “

Sykes converted to Buddhism in his 20s and lived the life of a monk in the name of social justice. He rarely had a job, wore used clothes and had no permanent address for a long time, instead staying with friends and living on donations and later on speaking fees. He never learned to drive, so he went everywhere, mostly to the reference area of ​​the library in Kansas City, Missouri, doing research, or to a booth in a restaurant that he used as an informal office surrounded by his papers, cups of coffee and cigarette butts.

In addition to working on cold cases, he successfully campaigned for local, state, and federal laws that reformed jury selection, promoted animal rights, and strengthened the role of DNA in murder investigations.

Alvin Lee Sykes was born on July 21, 1956 in Kansas City, Kansas. He said his father, Vernon Evans, raped his mother, Patricia Sykes, who was 14 when she gave birth to him. Eight days later, an acquaintance of his mother, Burnetta F. Page, took him in as a foster child.

He is survived by Edna Dill, his foster sister.

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