Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) Biography » Robert L. Carter Biography - Prompted To Activism By Pool Ban, Forged Legal Fighting For Civil Rights, Laid Groundwork For Brown V. The Board Of Education

Robert L. Carter - Prompted To Activism By Pool Ban

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Carter was born on March 11, 1917 in Careyville, Florida. His parents moved to New Jersey with his seven sisters and brothers when Robert was a baby, and Carter's father died soon after. His mother worked as a maid to put her children through school. Carter grew up far from the segregated South and was an exceptional student at his school in East Orange, New Jersey—he skipped two grades to graduate early. Nevertheless, he was barred from his school's all-white boys' swim team.

At the time, the school's swimming pool was drained and cleaned after black students used it. Carter's sense of injustice was riled. Early in his senior year, armed with a newspaper article detailing the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that prohibited public schools from banning blacks from school facilities, Carter burst into a "whites only" swim practice and demanded to be included. The coach tried threats, then pleas, but Carter was not to be deterred. For the rest of the school year he was allowed to join the white students in the pool. It was a lonely victory. The white students avoided him, and as he could not swim, he hovered alone at the shallow end of the pool. "None of the other black students joined me," Carter recalled in a 1996 speech to the Federal Bar Council recorded in Vital Speeches of the Day. "In view of the school's intimidating environment, that should not surprise." Carter credited that early experience as crucial in his decision to become a civil rights activist and lawyer.

At the age of 16, Carter landed a scholarship to Lincoln University. He graduated magna cum laude with a political science degree in 1937. Three years later he earned a law degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. He finished his studies with a master's in law from Columbia University in 1941. By that time World War II was on, and upon graduation Carter was promptly drafted as an officer into the then-segregated Air Force. He was greeted by a captain who routinely told well-schooled black recruits that he did not believe in "education for niggers" and warned them against "getting uppity," Carter recalled to the Federal Bar Council. Again his anger rose. Just as he had tried to integrate his high school swimming pool, young Lieutenant Carter tried to make the Air Force give its black officers the same privileges as whites. He barely escaped with an honorable discharge. The "raw, vicious, and pervasive" racism Carter experienced during his military service "made a militant of me," Carter said to the Federal Bar Council. "It instilled in me a fierce determination to fight against racism with all my intellectual and physical strength."

Robert L. Carter - Forged Legal Fighting For Civil Rights [next]

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