Friday, August 14, 2015

Thurgood Marshall and the 14th Amendment

James Poling (1907–1976)
From Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1973

Thurgood Marshall (in profile, facing picketers) with
NAACP protesters outside the prestigious Stork Club
in New York City, on October 26, 1951, days
after the entertainer Josephine Baker and her party
were seated at a table and then refused service.
Photograph by James C. Campbell. Image courtesy of
The New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Fifty years ago this summer, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American to serve as U.S. Solicitor General, the lawyer responsible for arguing cases on behalf of the executive branch before the Supreme Court. On July 7, 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson called Marshall, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge at the time, and offered him the position. According to since-released phone recordings, Johnson indicated that he wanted “to do this job that Lincoln started and I want to do it the right way,” that “I want to be the first president that really goes all the way,” and that he was grooming Marshall for “something better.” Marshall accepted before hanging up the phone.

Six days later Johnson announced the appointment, on August 11 Marshall’s confirmation sailed through the Senate on a voice vote , and on August 24 the new Solicitor General was sworn in. Unbeknownst to Marshall, in conversations held with other officials in the months preceding and following their phone call, Johnson was making known his future intentions: “I want to build him up where he’s impenetrable when he becomes a Supreme Court justice.” And indeed, two years later, the president nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court; on August 30, 1967; the Senate confirmed the nomination by a vote of 69 to 11.

Marshall’s path to becoming the first African American on the Supreme Court is the stuff of legend. In 1952 James Poling wrote for Collier’s magazine the following invaluable and amiable profile of the man who had been the NAACP’s chief legal counsel since 1936. At the time Poling wrote the article, Marshall had already argued twelve of the thirty-two cases he would eventually take to the Supreme Court on behalf of the NAACP. (He won twenty-nine of them, including the landmark Brown v. Board of Education. As Solicitor General, Marshall would argue another nineteen cases, winning fourteen.) Early in the article, Poling touts the legal victories that theoretically extended the vote to blacks across the South in the early 1950s, but, as subsequent years would prove, victory in court did not often translate easily into results in the field. On August 6, 1965, while Marshall was going through the confirmation process for his appointment as Solicitor General, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, empowering the federal government to intervene in states that continued to create obstacles to voting based on race.

A native of Ohio, James Poling worked as an editor at the publisher Doubleday, Doran during the 1930s and served as air combat intelligence officer in the Pacific during World War II. After the war he wrote frequently for Collier’s and later published numerous books, ranging from The Man Who Saved Robinson Crusoe, a study of the characters that inspired Defoe’s novel, to All Battle Stations Manned: The U.S. Navy in World War II, an account of the Navy’s reorganization in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor.

Note: On the last page of Poling’s profile is a reference to Barkis, the coachman in David Copperfield who persistently indicates his eagerness to marry the maid Peggoty by asking David to convey the message, “Barkis is willin’.”

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Thurgood Marshall, as special counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spends much of his time expertly pleading civil rights cases before the judges of our higher courts. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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