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 - Moved From The Trenches To The Bench

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Carter left the NAACP in 1968 for a try at teaching and practicing labor law with a private firm, but in 1972 he re-entered public service when President Richard Nixon appointed him a federal judge in New York City. He continued his pioneering—often controversial—work in interpreting the rights of individuals. In 1986 he made headlines when he cited all 350 of the country's Roman Catholic bishops for contempt of court, fining them $100,000 per day until they complied with a court order demanding documentation of their anti-abortion politicking.

In 1986 Carter reached senior judge status. Through the years he married and was widowed, raised two children, taught law at a long list of colleges, was a United States delegate to United Nations conferences, and co-founded the National Conference of Black Lawyers. He wrote dozens of articles and studies on discrimination and race in America and had plans to complete an autobiography. In 1995 President Bill Clinton awarded Carter the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.

In 2004, on the 50th anniversary of Brown, Carter was widely celebrated, receiving several prestigious awards and giving dozens of interviews. Despite the accolades, the disappointment over what he saw as the lack of progress made by black Americans was evident. "Black children aren't getting equal education in the cities," he told the New York Times. "The schools that are 100 percent black are still as bad as they were before Brown." In an interview with the Boston Herald he blamed part of the problem the very thing that he and so many civil rights activists had fought so hard to obtain—equal opportunity. He believed that blacks had simply become too comfortable. "We can't have faith in any white institutions," he warned. "We have to push on our own. No one wants to give up privilege. We have to be on the edge, complaining, pushing, not accepting." Carter felt that the overwhelming number of young blacks in the prison, the loss of Affirmative Action programs, and schools still effectively segregated by the urban-suburban divide were all a result of middle-class black complacency. But as a man who not only witnessed, but helped orchestrate, the greatest changes American society had lived through, he still held out hope. "In the United States, we make progress in two or three steps, then we step back," he told the New York Times. And blacks are more militant now and will not accept second-class citizenship as before."



Vital Speeches of the Day, March 1, 1996, p290.


Boston Herald, August 17, 2004.

Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, August 31, 2001.

New York Times, May 5, 2004.

Time, May 19, 1986.


"NAACP Awards 2004 Spingarn Medal too Judge Robert L. Carter," NAACP, www.naacp.org/news/2004/2004-06-15.html (February 25, 2005).

"Judge Carter and the Brown Decision," Organization of American Historians, www.oah.org/pubs/nl/2004feb/sullivan.html (February 25, 2005).

—Candace LaBalle

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