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Three Views of Thurgood Marshall
A champion of civil rights for more than 50 years and the first African-American appointed to the Supreme Court (by Lyndon Johnson in 1967), Thurgood Marshall, who died last month at 84, was one of the most important and ground-breaking legal figures of this century. From his early work as counsel to the NAACP (he argued and won the 1954 landmark Supreme Court victory outlawing school segregation) through his 24-year record as a liberal Justice on the high court (where he spoke out for abortion rights and affirmative action and against capital punishment), Marshall always fought for the rights of the disenfranchised.
With varying degrees of sophistication, each of these excellent books analyzes the legacy of this son of a one-time Pullman porter and a Baltimore school teacher.
Readers with a serious interest in legal issues will appreciate THURGOOD MARSHALL: JUSTICE FOR ALL by Roger Goldman with David Gallen (Carroll & Graf, $24.95). Divided into three parts, this academic book offers essays about the man and the lawyer, an extensive analysis of his jurisprudence and, finally, actual legal opinions written by the Justice in his impeccably reasoned style.
THURGOOD MARSHALL: WARRIOR AT THE BAR, REBEL ON THE BENCH by Michael D. Davis and Hunter R. Clark (Birch Lane, $24.95) follows a traditional biographical format. Well-written, informative and lively, it is peppered with anecdotes demonstrating Marshall's irreverent humor. (Even in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court he would often greet Chief Justice Warren Burger with a zesty, "What's shaking, Chiefy baby?")
The most intimate account of Marshall's life, though, comes from syndicated columnist Carl T. Rowan. In his unauthorized biography, DREAM MAKERS, DREW BREAKERS: THE WORLD OF THIRGOOD MARSHALL (Little, Brown, $24.95), Rowan draws on 40 years of friendship with Marshall to paint a glowing portrait of the iconoclastic-Justice who retired in 1991. Frequently inserting himself into the narrative, Rowan manages to reconstruct not only Marshall's remarkable life but also the tumultuous, change-filled era in which they both grew up. Rowan piercingly recounts some of his friend's formative experiences. On NAACP business in downtown Baltimore, the young lawyer would have to hop a streetcar home when he had to use the bathroom because blacks were not allowed to use public facilities. Once, to his humiliation, he did not make it home in time. Marshall also describes hearing his father tell him about a former employer, a white Baltimore matron, who in his presence jestingly asked her dog whether it would rather be "dead or a nigger." When the dog rolled over with all fours in the air, Marshall's father, her butler, simply walked out and never came back. It was such painful experiences, Rowan argues, that galvanized Marshall the lawyer against discrimination of all kinds. Near the end Rowan caustically describes the nomination and confirmation of the conservative judge Clarence Thomas as a "fiasco" and plainly implies that the man Thomas replaced shared the opinion.