An accomplished and determined woman transcended racial barriers to rise to prominence.
Carter (Law/Yale Univ.; Back Channel: 2014, etc.), former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, celebrates the life of his grandmother, Eunice Hunton Carter (1899-1970), who forged an astonishing legal career that included successfully prosecuting mobster Lucky Luciano. At the age of 8, Eunice told a young friend that she wanted to become a lawyer “to make sure the bad people went to jail.” Two decades later, she acted on that desire. After graduating with degrees from Smith College, a married mother of a 2-year-old son enmeshed in the social whirl of upper-society Harlem, she realized that she was thoroughly bored. She enrolled at Fordham Law School, one of the few that admitted women and blacks, and earned a law degree in 1932. Two years later, the GOP tapped her to run for New York state assembly against the Democratic incumbent: “Black and female, conservative and brilliant, charming and charismatic,” she seemed the perfect candidate. Although she lost that race, the campaign gave her visibility, and soon Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed her to a special commission to investigate rioting and unrest that had erupted in Harlem. Her career took off in 1935, when Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey hired her to join his team investigating mob activities in New York. It was, writes Carter, “the job every young lawyer wanted.” Eunice became Dewey’s staunch supporter, campaigning for him when he ran for Manhattan district attorney, New York governor, and president against Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Yet he always picked others to fill important appointments. Nevertheless, Eunice’s many social and political activities earned her widespread admiration. Carter places Eunice’s experiences in the context of American culture, politics, and her own family: her activist mother; her defiant brother, whose Communist Party membership, Eunice believed, threatened her career; and her son (the author’s father). Eunice could be imperious, “judgmental and often dismissive,” impatient and aloof. Quitting, the author writes, “was not in her nature.”
A vivid portrait of a remarkable woman.