Books by Paul E. Wilson

Released: March 30, 1995

A candid but unenlightening memoir of the failed effort to defend segregation before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. Wilson (Law/Univ. of Kansas), in 1954 assistant attorney general for the state of Kansas, writes as the only surviving litigator of the landmark case that ended segregation in the nation's public schools. Back then he was a fledgling ``country lawyer'' infected by what he calls ``the Kansas ambivalence'' about race relations, who was suddenly charged with representing his state before the Supreme Court—and before national opinion. Wilson makes no bones about his current belief that segregation was morally reprehensible and un-American. However, his account of his views 40 years ago is less clear: Sometimes he admits he just doesn't remember; at others, he swears that if he had been a state legislator he would have voted to end the practice. Nevertheless, once charged with writing the brief for Brown, Wilson became convinced that ``history and tradition and judicial precedent'' were on his side. After all, he rationalized, unlike the schools of Virginia or South Carolina (whose cases also fell under the province of Brown), Kansas's separate schools were ``substantially equal'' in quality. Most important, his job was to vigorously invoke legal precedent (especially Plessy v. Ferguson) and the rule of law. Wilson's persistent belief that he was just focusing on the law, and doing his job, comes across today as pathetic and even comical. When he takes Plessy and his new dark suit to the Supreme Court, the Justices (especially Frankfurter) mock him then ignore him in their unanimous opinion. But Wilson is characteristically clueless: ``I was satisfied that I had looked and talked and behaved like a lawyer.'' Repetitive, simplistic, and inadvertently humorous, this book will not win sympathy for its legalistic defense of segregation. Read full book review >