Fenderson opens his story with a dramatic incident from Marshall’s early adolescence. At a train station, a white man, whom Marshall could not see because of a stack of Easter hatboxes, said, “Nigguh, don’t you never push in front of no white lady again.” Marshall responded with his fists and was saved from jail (or worse) by the white police officer who intervened. Fortunately, the officer knew the boy and his family. This partial biography presents Marshall as a lively teenager whose forebears had shown the kind of courage that he would as an attorney. Although Marshall’s intellectual strengths and courage are almost eulogized, this biographer does balance his portrait with reports such as Marshall’s misbehavior in high school, which often resulted in being sent to the school basement to memorize sections of the Constitution. Fenderson credits this experience, along with dinner time discussions with his father, William, about the Constitution and the legal cases that his father followed, as the ones that led Marshall to law school.
Fenderson, who was an English professor, strove to present an exciting story for young readers but, in the attempt, appears to throw the book out of balance. Two chapters are used to report the effect of the white man’s challenge at the train station, and another two chapters are given to the case of W. D. Lyons, an African-American man accused of murder who was deprived of his rights. Both incidents make...
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Fenderson’s book was the first biography of Marshall to appear for young read-ers, and it was designed “to encourage pride in a heritage.” For twenty years, this book was the only juvenile biography of a man who had as much or more to do with the advancement of civil rights for minorities, including women, as Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1990, two young adult biographies of Marshall were published, one for the Black Americans of Achievement series and the other for a series entitled The History of the Civil Rights Movement. Both include the apparatus that has come to be considered essential for a quality biography and are written in a more objective style than Fenderson’s work. Each uses three or four paragraphs to report the same material that Fenderson used to write two chapters. Both place Marshall in the context of history and make clearer his contributions, which Justice William J. Brennan described as “enforcing the constitutional protections that distinguish our democracy.” Yet, Fenderson’s simply written book presents an inspiring story of hard work and dedication, and it may continue to be the choice of younger readers.