3 minute read

Robert L. Carter - Laid Groundwork For Brown V. The Board Of Education

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

Laid Groundwork for Brown v. the Board of Education

Carter's crowning achievement was masterminding the strategy behind Brown vs. the Board of Education. It was Carter's idea to use social science and psychology to prove that state-sponsored separation of black and white children did terrible harm to black youngsters. Carter used dolls to illustrate his point, pointing to studies that revealed that little black girls chose to play with white dolls over black dolls. Carter's argument drew skepticism from NAACP colleagues; however, Carter won them over. "My argument was real simple," Carter recalled to the Boston Herald. He asked them, "'Do you have anything better?'" Carter's dolls worked and history was made. "Judge Carter's goading and pivotal role in Brown vs. the Board of Education serve to demonstrate his tremendous and long-lasting impact in the fight to bring equality to school children and poor people of all colors throughout this country," Kweisi Mfume, former president of the NAACP, said in an article on the NAACP Web site.

At a Glance...

Born on March 11, 1917, in Careyville, FL; married Gloria Pamela Spencer (deceased); children: John, David. Education: Lincoln University, BA, political science, 1937; Howard University, JD, 1940; Columbia University, LLM, 1941. Military Service: Army Air Corps, second-lieutenant, 1941-44.

Career: NAACP Legal Defense Fund, New York, NY, assistant special counsel, 1944-56; NAACP Legal Defense Fund, New York, NY, general counsel, 1956-68; Poletti, Freidin, Prashker, Feldman and Gartner, New York, NY, senior partner, 1969-72; US District Court, Southern District of New York, federal judge 1972–.

Memberships: World Assembly on Human Rights, delegate, 1968; New York City Mayor's Judiciary Committee, 1968-72; National Conference of Black Lawyers, co-chairman, 1968-82; National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, board member; American Civil Liberties, board member.

Awards: Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1995; Federal Bar Council, Emory Bucknor Medal for Outstanding Public Service, 1995; Harvard Law School, Medal of Freedom, 2000; NAACP, Spingarn Medal, 2004; NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award, 2004.

Addresses: Office—United States Courthouse, 500 Pearl Street, Room 2220, New York, NY 10007-1312.

After Thurgood Marshall joined the United States judiciary in 1956, Carter assumed the role of head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Carter's important cases during that time included a 1958 Alabama ruling that protected the NAACP membership lists from publication—removing a subtle weapon employers and governments used against black activists. Carter also sued and argued to strike down laws that segregated colleges and carved-up voting districts according to race. Carter's office also oversaw many cases that stemmed directly from Brown. "We had a whole new world of litigation ahead of us," one of Carter's NAACP colleagues told the New York Times. "Shortly after the [Brown] decision we represented students who sat in at North Carolina lunch counters, an action that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ending segregation in businesses that engaged in interstate commerce. It was another huge development: the ability of blacks to eat in local restaurants in the south, to stay in hotels."

In a move reminiscent of his youthful activism, Carter decided to personally test the implications of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He and a group of African-American activists spent a week traveling through Mississippi in January of 1965, desegregating restaurants, hotels, and other public facilities previously delineated by "White Only" and "Colored" signs. "We had only one scary incident in the infamous town of Philadelphia," Carter recalled in his Federal Bar Council speech. "When we left an establishment we were testing, white men not looking too friendly and carrying guns were lined up on each side of the path we had to traverse to get to our vehicle. You can be sure I was frightened, but fortunately, the men apparently were there only to try to intimidate us by their presence and not to do any physical harm." Carter concluded, "The Mississippi exercise was an exhilarating experience because it seemed to us that if the Civil Rights Act could effect such a drastic change in Mississippi, success was assured nationwide."

Additional topics