An architect of the celebrated Brown v. Board of Education suit recalls a long life spent fighting for equal treatment under the law.
Born in 1917 in Florida, Carter was taken as an infant to New Jersey. For all the supposed advancement above the Mason-Dixon line, he writes, “I am more alienated from whites than are black southerners of my generation.” Surely, by this account, he has many reasons to be alienated. New Jersey schools were segregated in fact as well as in law; when he was in high school, Carter recalls, the state Supreme Court ruled that public school facilities had to be made available to all students; and when he reported this to his teachers, he was immediately threatened with expulsion. As the first black graduate law student at Columbia, Carter met with his professors’ certainty that he “was not up to the task” merely by virtue of his ethnicity. And in the Army during WWII, Carter was accused of being a troublemaker, demoted from junior officer ranking and made eligible for draft as an enlisted man, though his demotion was later adjusted to an honorable discharge disqualifying him from further service. “Without the army experience,” Carter writes, “I might have discounted the impact of race and believed falsely that a black man could rise or fall based on his own talents.” Carter’s years of service as assistant to NAACP lead counsel Thurgood Marshall, as the organization’s general counsel and, later, as a federal judge, did much to convince him otherwise. There are useful revelations here. For one, while Brown v. Board proved to be critically important in ending school segregation, Carter reveals that the NAACP had been preparing cases throughout the former Confederacy, finally choosing Kansas because “we might get a ruling in our favor, or a different kind of analysis of the problem than we could expect from the Deep South.”
A thoughtfully argued memoir that shows—as if proof were needed—that “the struggle to make equality for all people a fundamental tenet in our society continues.”