The Brown Decision and
We don’t have any army to enforce our opinions.
THE FIFTIES HAVE TYPICALLY BEEN VIEWED as a bland decade during which a “silent” generation conformed to the norms of the day. But as the late author David Halberstam wrote, stirrings beneath the placid surface would explode during the following decade and bring about dramatic changes in the country.1 Civil rights was foremost among these changes, and the Supreme Court, through the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education, a catalyst for achieving them.
Although it was not universally recognized, Tom Clark had established himself as a champion of civil rights before Brown was decided. His development into a civil rights advocate was gradual but began early—perhaps starting when he witnessed a lynching at age nine. Eight years later, his choice of the topic “modern slavery” for his speech as Bryan Street High School’s class orator suggests that he was sensitive to the plight of black Americans and felt that they remained in a form of slavery. His views expanded more when, as a young lawyer, he represented a number of impoverished African American clients, such as Charlie Ellis, whose case is described in Chapter 4. In 1944, as president of the Federal Bar Association, he insisted that African American lawyers be admitted as members of that association. And there can be no doubt that President Harry Truman was a powerful influence on his development. Under Truman’s direction, he was deeply involved in writing and lobbying for the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1949. He was the first attorney general to file an amicus curiae brief in a civil rights case (Shelley v. Kraemer). Justice