Making Civil Rights Law

The decade of the 1950’s was remarkable in American history primarily for the advances made in civil rights laws during that period. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, was at the forefront of these changes. MAKING CIVIL RIGHTS LAW chronicles not just the years of Marshall’s triumphs, but also the decades of careful preparation, false starts, and minor victories that resulted eventually in the case that has come to symbolize the ultimate breakdown of American racial segregation, Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

Marshall certainly was not the only player, or the only lawyer, responsible for the civil rights revolution in this country. Still, as Tushnet makes clear, many of the gains made by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund can be directly attributed to Marshall’s energy and charisma, as well as to his legal acumen. Between 1938, when he took charge of the NAACP’s legal activities, and 1945, when he could finally afford to expand his legal staff, Marshall was in fact the only lawyer in the organization with substantial courtroom responsibilities. During this time, he also acted as the Legal Defense Fund’s primary ambassador and fund raiser. He was always, however, primarily a litigator, and when the gains he helped to achieve in civil rights law evolved into an activist movement, he moved on.

Marshall continued to serve his people and his country, first as Solicitor General, then as Supreme Court Justice. As MAKING CIVIL RIGHTS LAW demonstrates, however, his first career was possibly his most fertile one. Certainly the role he played during the period 1936-1961 helped to reshape America in ways few individuals can match.