Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

And Justice for All: Behind the Scenes at Brown

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

And Justice for All: Behind the Scenes at Brown

Article excerpt

CRUSADERS IN THE COURTS How a Small Group of Dedicated Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution By Jack Greenberg 633 pages, Basic Books, $30

AN ELABORATE SYSTEM of state-sponsored racial segregation prevailed in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Segregation was sanctioned by the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy vs. Ferguson, a case decided by the Supreme Court in 1896.

In reality, the separate facilities provided for African-Americans were nearly always demonstrably inferior to those reserved for whites. Segregation merely formalized a racial hierarchy that was designed solely to ensure the subordinate status of black Americans.

The system remained unchallenged until the mid-1930s, when the NAACP launched a long-range, carefully orchestrated litigation campaign that challenged segregation via a series of Supreme Court cases. These efforts eventually resulted in Brown vs. Board of Education, the case in which the Supreme Court declared segregation in public education unconstitutional.

The legal challenge was developed and implemented by a small group of lawyers, almost all of whom were associated with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the subject of Jack Greenberg's new book. The "Inc. Fund," as it became known in later years, was established as a separate legal entity in 1940 to allow tax-exempt contributions that were prevented by lobbying and other activities in which the NAACP was involved. The organizations were, for all practical purposes, synonymous. This arrangement continued until the mid-1950s, when pressure from the Internal Revenue Service forced the organizations to sever all connections.

Jack Greenberg joined the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or LDF, in 1949, not long after he graduated from Columbia Law School. He succeeded Thurgood Marshall as Director-Counsel in 1961, after Marshall was nominated to serve as a circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. While he was still in his twenties, Greenberg handled the trials of two of the five cases that are now remembered collectively as Brown vs. Board of Education. He later argued one of those cases in the Supreme Court. Because Greenberg was directly involved in these historic events, his book contains an insider's account of the Brown litigation. It also includes an illuminating discussion of the long and frustrating efforts to implement the desegregation decree in the face of the policy of "massive resistance" that the segregationist states adopted.

Readers unfamiliar with civil rights history will marvel at how a small group of underfunded lawyers prevailed against those forces of the legal establishment that were arrayed against them. …

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