Ebony Interview with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; in a Rare and Exclusive Interview, the Most Important Civil Rights Lawyer of the 20th Century and the First Black Member of the Highest Court in the Land, Reflects on the Dream Then, Now and Tomorrow

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In a rare and exclusive interview, the most important civil rights lawyer of the 20th century and the first Black member of the highest court in the land, reflects on the dream then, now and tomorrow. EBONY: How would you assess the success of the Supreme Court's efforts to make equality in America a reality? MARSHALL: I can't comment on that while I'm sitting on the bench. I'll say whatever is appropriate to say about the Court in my opinions, not here. EBONY: When you broke the 178-year-old old color barrier on the Supreme Court in 1967, there were many who were overwhelmed to see a Black man appointed to the high court in their lifetime. Looking forward, are you optimistic we will see another Black justice appointed to the Court? MARSHALL: First, please note that I don't use the terms "Black" or "Negro." Instead, I use the term "Afro-American," because that term is a more respectful reflection of the contributions that descendants from diverse and culturally rich African traditions have made to the mosaic of American society. Regarding your question, I hope we do have other Afro-American justices, not simply because they are Afro-American, can, but because the Court is open to any man or woman who is qualified for the job. EBONY: Then, do you believe we will see another Black appointment in the near future? MARSHALL: Sure, Why not. We've got an Afro-American governor, Afro-American can state and federal legislators, and now even an Afro-American head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as many superb Afro-American jurist sitting on lower courts and holding other distinquished jobs in the legal profession. EBONY: What about a Black chief justice? In the next 45 years, or for that matter, will we ever see a Black chief justice? MARSHALL: I'm not sure, but whether or not we do seems relatively unimportant. EBONY: Why? MARSHALL: Because the chief justice has only one vote, like the rest of the justices. What's far more important than the largely administrative role of the chief justice, in my view, is how any justice on the Court exercise his or her obligation to uphold the Constitution. EBONY: The great success of the civil rights period was the achievement of legal equality for Black Americans. In light of the great legal gains of the past 45 years, do you believe the NAACP is as necessary today as it was when you headed its legal team 45 years ago? MARSHALL: Yes, I believe that the NAACP still has an important place in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. EBONY: With the retirement of Justice Brennan, and the Bush nomination of David Souter to the Court, experts agree the Supreme Court now has a solidly conservative majority. Are you optimistic we will see another liberal majority? MARSHALL: I don't think it's useful to characterize judges by the overused and underexplained terms "liberal" and "conservative." EBONY: Duke University historian and law professor John Hope Franklin says it was you, while at the head of the civil rights lawyers 45 years ago, who told Black America to hold fast because you were going to get the law on our side. Given the unholy racism of the times, what inspired such confidence in you? MARSHALL: I really believed we couldn't be held down any longer and that right would win out and people would realize that we weren't just fighting for Afro-Americans; we were fighting for the heart of the entire nation. I still believe that. EBONY: Even despite what many see as a significant upswing in prejudice and racial intolerance in recent years? MARSHALL: Nothing can shake my faith in my country. I still believe firmly that right will win out. EBONY: You have described the Court's recent rulings as "a retrenchment of the civil rights agenda" and a "backsliding." Do you believe that trend will soon reverse? MARSHALL: I wouldn't say "soon," but it will. It will. EBONY: You have at times been very critical of the Supreme Court for its recent decisions. …