[Civil] rights are not self-enforcing. Making them a reality requires individuals with the skill and determination to use the law's majestic machinery by bringing cases that expose the great gulf between the high-mindedness of the Constitution and the injustices of everyday life. Thus it was that in the 1930s the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began plotting a litigation strategy to force the courts to confront the evils of official racism. Propelled by Charles Houston, William Henry Hastie and Thurgood Marshall, this effort eventually led to a momentous Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that finally broke the back of official segregation. From Brown v. Board flowed a robust civil rights movement and, in time, a giant wave of equal rights legislation that even a Congress disproportionately influenced by old-guard Southerners could not resist.
Editorial,New York Times, December 24, 1999
There is a school that holds that these legal victories are empty. They are not. At the very least, they provide the ground upon which we make a stand for our rights.
James Weldon Johnson,Negro Americans, What Now? New York, 1934, p. 39