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“I am trying very hard to keep my feet on the ground and not get too optimistic, but it is hard not to,” she wrote. “I know how you must feel. Anyway, we will keep praying.”

Mr. Sullivan drove to Minnesota and visited his friend in prison.

“I went to visit him and he complained about dizziness, and I wrote a letter to the man who headed the prison warning him about this,” Mr. Sullivan said, noting that soon thereafter Mr. Ming fell and hit his head in a prison shower. After his fall, Mr. Ming was sent to a veteran’s hospital in Chicago, where he rallied briefly, just long enough to be able to watch the Watergate hearings on television.

By late April, his prognosis was grim.

“Doctors Give Up, Atty. Bob Ming clinging to life!” the headline in the Chicago Defender read. Mr. Ming’s death on June 30, 1973, prompted an outpouring of praise from civil rights leaders, but questions about his fate, too.

Chicago lawyer Robert L. Tucker, a colleague, eulogized Mr. Ming, saying his “finer and most productive years were spent in the trenches and upon the blood-stained battlefields” of the civil rights movement. And Chicago Defender columnist Louis Martin called for more people like Mr. Ming as the Watergate scandal embroiled Washington.

Now, Mr. Ming’s legal files sit in the archives in the basement of a library at Howard University. The boxes include a file called “drawings,” with pictures Mr. Sullivan’s young children drew for Mr. Ming, who never had children of his own. And along with the senior King’s plea to the U.S. Parole Board is another note from Mr. Sullivan to the Parole Board, which eventually let Mr. Ming out of prison as his health worsened.

“My admiration for his humanity and legal ability is so great that it is difficult to put in words,” Mr. Sullivan wrote.

Thirty-five years later, from his Chicago law office, the words are still hard to come by.