The Early Civil Rights Letters of Thurgood Marshall
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Long (Religious Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies/Elizabethtown Coll.; Billy Graham and the Beloved Community: America’s Evangelist and the Dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., 2006, etc.) presents an inspiring account of Thurgood Marshall’s work as a civil-rights activist.

As the NAACP’s leading lawyer between 1934 and 1957, the author writes, Marshall was “known to everyday blacks as ‘Mr. Civil Rights,’ struggl[ing] day and night against racial discrimination and segregation in schools, transportation, the military, businesses, voting booths, courtrooms, and neighborhoods.” According to Long, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as “the two greatest civil rights leaders in the history of the United States.” The approximately 200 letters and memoranda reproduced here give a comprehensive overview of Marshall’s role in “galvanizing the civil rights movement” and paving the way for the freedom riders. While Marshall’s 1954 victory against segregated schools in Brown v. the Board of Education, which he argued before the Supreme Court, and his defense of Rosa Parks in the Montgomery bus boycott were historic legal victories, he worked tirelessly on behalf of ordinary black people who faced lynch mobs, police brutality, biased juries and sentencing to chain gangs for misdemeanors and minor offenses. Although he was primarily a litigator before becoming a judge, he also recognized the importance of grass-roots action when legal action failed—e.g., in 1937, after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys (nine African-American youths wrongly convicted of rape and sentenced to be executed), Marshall suggested that a mothers’ march be organized to support an appeal for clemency. However, writes Long, he remained wary of the role of “African American militants and individuals with leftist leanings.”

A nuanced treatment of a towering figure.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-198518-8
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2010


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