Griffin Jasper Stockley (1944–2023)
Griffin Jasper Stockley Jr. was an author, historian, and attorney known for his lifelong commitment to the cause of civil rights. Although Stockley was honored over the years for his legal achievements, his books garnered him the widest recognition. His five Gideon Page novels became popular in the 1990s. Noteworthy in their own right, his legal mysteries are also an outward expression of Stockley’s own personal and political beliefs. In 2001, he published a finely researched historical account of the Elaine Massacre, titled Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919, and he followed that up with a biography of Daisy Bates, a history of the Negro Boys Industrial School Fire of 1959, and other works of history. In 2002 and 2010, Stockley was awarded the Booker Worthen Literary Prize. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Historical Association.
Grif Stockley was born on October 9, 1944, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Temple Wall and Griffin Jasper Stockley Sr. For the first two years of his life, he lived in Lake Cormorant, Mississippi, located near Memphis on the Mississippi River, where his father owned a plantation. After a time, the family moved to the small Arkansas town of Marianna (Lee County). Stockley spent the remainder of his school years in Marianna in the company of his parents and two older sisters, Sally and Harriet. In an otherwise typical household, he often listened to spirited disagreements between the outspoken Sally and his father, whose racial attitudes reflected that of middle-class white people during the Jim Crow era. The elder Stockley, upon learning that he was in the last stages of cancer, took his own life when his son was seventeen.
In high school, Stockley served as president of the student body. After graduating in 1962, he entered Southwestern at Memphis, now Rhodes College, where he completed his coursework in three years with a BA degree in international relations. In 1965, he joined the Peace Corps, working in Colombia for the next two years helping to develop the economy of rural areas. Stockley was then drafted into the army in 1967, during the peak of the Vietnam War. During his service, he married Susan Minter. After a two-year tour of duty in the United States, he began law school at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). He obtained his JD degree and took his first job with the Center for Arkansas Legal Services in Little Rock (Pulaski County).
Stockley worked at the center for thirty-one years, representing indigent and working-class people in civil law cases. By his own account, Stockley used his experiences in legal aid as “grist for the fiction mill.” In 1973, Stockley’s daughter Erin was born. In 1979, he and Minter divorced. Stockley married Susan Gill in 1985, but the two divorced ten years later.
In 1991, Stockley published his first novel, Expert Testimony, introducing the unassuming lawyer-protagonist Gideon Page. During the next six years, Stockley produced four more “lawyer mysteries”: Probable Cause (1992), Religious Conviction (1994), Illegal Motion (1995), and Blind Judgment (1997), a body of work which earned him Arkansas’s premier literary award, the Porter Prize. A central theme in all five books is the kinship between Page and his daughter, Sarah, a reflection of Stockley’s close-knit relationship with his own daughter, Erin.
Moving on from the Page series, Stockley’s next novel, Salted with Fire (2001), published by Rose Publishing Company, is the story of one Cormorant Ashley, who is accused of murdering an African American history professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Ashley retains his childhood friend, Miller Holley, to represent him. While editing this book, Stockley began work on his history of the Elaine Massacre, which was published by the University of Arkansas Press. Continuing with the civil rights theme, Stockley published, in 2005, Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas through the University Press of Mississippi.
Starting in 2002, Stockley worked for fifteen months at the Disability Rights Center before becoming the first staff attorney for the Arkansas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. Stockley had been affiliated with the ACLU for many years before taking the job, at one time acting as the president of the board. In 2006, he resigned from the ACLU to become the first Dee Brown Fellow of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, a division of the Central Arkansas Library System.
The Butler Center published his book Race Relations in the Natural State, written for use in state schools, in 2007. In 2008, the University of Arkansas Press published Ruled by Race: Black/White Relations in Arkansas from Slavery to the Present, an expanded version of his previous book. In 2017, he published Black Boys Burning: The 1959 Fire at the Arkansas Negro Boys Industrial School, the first book on the subject, through the University Press of Mississippi. A revised edition of Blood in Their Eyes was released by the University of Arkansas Press in 2020. Later that year, Stockley released a memoir titled Hypogrif in Bubbaville: A Memoir of Race, Class and Ego.
Having worked as a lawyer since 1972, Stockley was involved in a number of legal cases that have had statewide impact. One notable case, Walker v. Department of Human Services (291Ark. 43Ark.S.Ct. 1987), rendered unconstitutional the juvenile justice system in Arkansas. In 2016, he was named the state ACLU’s Civil Libertarian of the Year.
Stockley’s name was well known in literary circles, although he dismissed the recognition with characteristic modesty. During one interview, he remarked, “A person’s life is meaningful and valuable before they get published and has significance. That has to do with the integrity of our own lives. Your integrity is your integrity—whether you get published or not.”
Stockey died on January 4, 2023, in Virginia, where he had moved to be near his daughter a few years after being diagnosed with dementia.
For additional information:
Brummett, John. “A Meaningful 20th-Century Memoir.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 23, 2020. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/aug/23/a-meaningful-20th-century-memoir/ (accessed January 4, 2023).
Grif Stockley Papers. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. https://cdm15728.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/findingaids/id/11016/rec/1 (accessed January 4, 2023).
“Interview with Grif Stockley.” January 16, 2009. Audio at Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art, Central Arkansas Library System: Grif Stockley Interview (accessed January 4, 2023).
Moss, Teresa. “Author, Historian Stockley Dies at 78.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 5, 2023, pp. 1B, 3B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2023/jan/05/author-historian-stockley-dies-at-78/ (accessed January 5, 2023).
Stockley, Grif. Hypogrif in Bubbaville: A Memoir of Race, Class and Ego. N.p.: 2020.
Trieschmann, Werner. “Griffin Jasper Stockley.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 31, 2010, pp. 1D, 7D. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2010/oct/31/griffin-jasper-stockley-20101031/ (accessed January 5, 2023).
Jean Cazort Cockcroft
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I was named after Griffin Stockley.