Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark: A Life of Service

By Mimi Clark Gronlund | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 10
Civil Rights
OPENING A NEW ERA

It is my purpose to protect human rights and civil liberties when-
ever they are infringed.

Tom C. Clark, 1946

INDIVIDUAL LIBERTIES ENJOYED SIGNIFICANT GAINS and suffered serious threats during the years that Tom Clark served as attorney general. Success in the realm of racial discrimination foreshadowed the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown decision and the start of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Without question, under Harry Truman’s leadership, more was done to end racial discrimination than at any time since Abraham Lincoln was president. Tom Clark was a key player in this effort, which was not surpassed until Lyndon Johnson launched his Great Society programs almost twenty years later.

Before appointing him attorney general, President Truman made it clear to Tom Clark that civil rights were a priority: “When I conferred with Clark regarding his appointment, I expressed to him my ideas of how I wanted him to run the Department of Justice. I emphasized to him the need to be vigilant to maintain the rights of individuals under the provisions of the Bill of Rights…. I emphasized this so much that Tom Clark thought I was “hipped” on the subject—and I was.”1

Truman and Clark seemed unlikely candidates for initiating a civil rights movement, nor is that what they had anticipated doing when they began to battle discrimination. Racism was ingrained in the national fabric at that time, and both men grew up in areas of the country where it was strongly entrenched. Although Missouri, unlike Texas, was a border state during the Civil War, it was also a slave state with southern sympa

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