American Revolutionary
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Written with the cooperation of its subject, this is a solid, comprehensive biography that brings into focus a historical giant who has, sadly, faded from view. As his subtitle suggests, former Washington Post reporter Williams (author of the best-selling Eyes on the Prize, companion volume to the PBS documentary of the same name) is interested foremost in Thurgood Marshall’s role as the leader “of a burgeoning social revolution” during the early years of the civil rights movement. What’s surprising is how deeply opposed the brilliant lawyer was to the other two members of what Williams dubs “the black triumvirate.” Marshall disdained Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent protests as ineffective and resented the media attention King garnered; he saw Malcolm X as a destructive thug. Reviewing Marshall’s stunning impact on the nation’s legal system—first as the NAACP’s chief counsel, later as President Lyndon Johnson’s solicitor general, and finally as the first black Supreme Court justice—Williams dramatically and persuasively makes the case that Marshall, the man who ended legal segregation with his landmark Brown v. Board of Education victory, is by far the most important of the three. Though Marshall’s string of legal victories brought him fame as a crusader and savior of his race during the 1950s, he was rejected by militant black-power advocates in the late ’60s, when his gradualism and respect for law and order were out of step with the times. Williams does a good job of bringing alive the private Marshall, a necessary task, since the justice’s seclusion during the last 30 years of his life removed him from the public eye. A confirmed drinker and womanizer, Marshall was a charismatic man whose gift of gab was equally useful for negotiating political tightropes, neutralizing critics like J. Edgar Hoover, or putting bigoted southern sheriffs at ease. Williams is uncritical of Marshall’s personal flaws, but his reconstruction of Marshall makes for a lively and immensely valuable portrait of a first-rate legal mind and true American hero. (16 pages b&w photos not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8129-2028-7
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998


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