This book was read beautifully by Peter Francis James. If I could have, I would have given it ten stars. It should be required reading in schools across the country. I grew up, went to school, got degrees, but I was never taught about the injustice in the black community in such a detailed, well researched, honest and compassionate approach. It is inspiring and highly informative.
The background of Thurgood Marshall’s life is compelling. In his early days, his fights to end racial tensions and racial bias consumed him and were fraught with danger. A lawyer, he fought for the rights of the black man and woman with a straightforward no-nonsense dedication and fervor. He was married, but he and his wife remained childless. He worked too hard, played too much and often drank too much. He was not always true to his wife, but he always loved her, and they remained together until she died.
Thurgood Marshall spent his life fighting for the civil rights of blacks in all avenues of life. He fought for better educational opportunity and won the case in Brown v. Board of Education, granting the right to an equal education, in all schools, for all students, not separate but equal schools. He worked hard for the cause of desegregation and to right the wrongs of the justice system, but the ultimate goal of integration was a long and hard struggle. He fought to overturn the Jim Crow laws that divided the races. His life was often threatened as he fought the attempts of the KKK to defeat all of his efforts. He became the first black United States Supreme Court Justice.
Although the book provides the background of Justice Marshall and his decades long fight for equality, it dwells largely on the Groveland Boys Case which was a travesty of justice. It took decades to overturn the verdicts due to corruption and deception. Four black men were framed and beaten to coerce confessions, some were murdered in cold blood by law enforcement for the rape of a white woman, “a flower of the south”, a crime they did not commit, and for which they were falsely accused. They were mistreated by a crooked, twisted law enforcement body and a blind court controlled by racists, judges, sheriffs, the KKK, and politicians, all of whom were complicit in allowing this corrupt behavior to dominate their justice system. The true story of the supposed rape and the night of the alleged crime is revealed slowly. The research leaves no stone unturned. As years go by, as people are murdered and terrorized to prevent them from telling the truth, whites and blacks, the tension builds as if it were a novel. It is a story one would wish had been made up from whole cloth; it is such a mockery of justice and an example of outright evil.
The case is about two young black men who made the mistake of stopping to help a young white couple, stranded in a disabled vehicle, on a dark and lonely road which they just happened to pass by. It was to prove to be a terrible accident of fate. From that act of kindness a nightmare developed that extended for decades, ending in bloodshed and death. The true criminals and perjurers paraded around protected by the tactics of those who wore hoods. According to the book, even as late as 2005, there were possible repercussions from the Groveland Case, which occurred in Lake County, Florida. I live in Florida and I am ashamed, even though I was not a resident at the time this “so-called crime” took place. The complacency of everyone towards the plight of the falsely accused men, including the Governor, the courts and the media, was shameful, and the idea that it might still exist is appalling and inexcusable. Without the efforts of the NAACP and the Legal Defense Fund, and finally the media and a few good men, justice, however mediocre, might never have been served.
After reading this book, it is easy to understand why people of color do not trust law enforcement and react with such vehemence when they suspect foul play against their race. They have no historic context to believe anything else. It was so easy for them to be framed, murdered and disposed of as collateral damage to the cause of white supremacy. They had no recourse, no way to fight back, and it took decades to achieve anything to improve their situation. The wheels of justice moved in slow motion and often not at all. My view of the Civil Rights struggle was distorted by a lack of education and a lack of information. This book was an eye-opening, unpleasant and painful history lesson. My ignorance of the real experiences, horrors and helplessness of the blacks everywhere, apart and aside from the common knowledge of the tragedy of slavery, was woefully obvious and speaks to a need for a broader education on black history for elementary school children, with full disclosure.
The Southerners were adamant about separating the races. They didn’t see themselves as hypocrites, but rather as self-righteous keepers of the peace, their warped sense of ethics and their agrarian economy. Because of the atmosphere of fear in the South, even blacks shied away from supporting black causes and did not testify to save their brethren, but rather accepted money and bribes to lie. Their very lives, livelihoods, families and children were often threatened if they didn’t comply, and that went also for white people who went against the fray. Their homes were destroyed, businesses ruined, and their bodies were beaten and left for dead, if not actually dead! The book illustrates the decades of Thurgood Marshall’s dedication to the advancement of the cause of civil rights, so often at great risk to his own life.
This book reads like a thriller; it is a book which one would wish was fiction, rather than fact, so horrific are the details revealed, so monumental are the miscarriages of justice. It is no wonder that blacks carry around the baggage of fear and mistrust. They sure have good reason because the white population has set the precedent for them. The system was unequal and unfair. Black men were murdered for crimes they didn’t commit and white men, when caught and tried for crimes against blacks, were dismissed with a slap on their wrists from all white juries that perpetuated the prejudice, corruption and brutality. While black men were murdered for the “supposed” rape of a white woman, white men were excused for the rape of a black woman. The crimes were not considered equal in the eyes of the interpreters of the law.
I was sixteen when I was chased by a group of white youngsters because I was with a young black man. It was in Saratoga Springs, NY. In retrospect, I shouldn’t be so surprised by what I read, yet I was, because I thought what happened to me was an anomaly, not the norm.. Thinking about it now, we were really lucky that the four of us escaped bodily harm. I remember it well though. My black friends told us to separate from them because they wanted to protect us, and I, young and foolish, thought it was exciting and romantic. I never realized that this type of thing was a heinous threat that hung over them everyday. I was completely naïve.
Marshall’s name goes down in history right next to some of the most memorable legal cases fought before the Supreme Court. He worked tirelessly to achieve a legal system and educational system that was fair to all, regardless of color, and ultimately was successful, but there is still a tough road to hoe.