From the Publisher
"Marshall's life was a seminal one for twentieth-century American history, and it is well told in Mr. Williams's readable and important book."The New York Times
"This is a must-read for all Americans concerned with the struggle for civil and individual rights."Booklist (Editors' Choice, 1998)
"Engagingremarkable in its vivid and detailed account of its subject."The Washington Post Book World
"Magisterial." Time magazine
Thurgood Marshall is remembered by many as a rather stern, gruff Supreme Court justice, but he was also a courageous young lawyer who took on institutional segregation and racism, winning the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, and a witty, charismatic man-about-town who lived life with gusto and was often seen in the company of prizefighter Joe Louis, singer Cab Calloway, and other leading lights of the African-American community. Williams explores the nature of Marshall's involvements with such prominent civil-rights activists as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Robert F. Kennedy, and his secret dealings with FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover -- a relationship that is revealed here for the very first time.
...[W]ill provide grist to both celebrants and detractors [of Marshall]....In a book that is about 400 pages long, only about 70 pages are devoted to Marshall's career as a Justice....Coming of age at a time when black professionals were openly mocked, he pursued his ambitions to the hilt and acomplished...much more...than peers to whom every privilege had been extended. The New Republic
Ronald K. L. Collins
Thurgood Marshall is remarkable in its vivid and detailed account of its subject....To read this book is to learn how a great lawyer can bring about great social changes and yet remain within the law.
Washington Post Book World
...[T]he first major biography of Marshall....his text is sprinkled with Marshall's own breezy comments on key incidents in his life....The Marshall who emerges...is in many ways an American revolutionary...but a more conservative revolutionary that his common image would suggest....Marshall's life, in short, was a seminal one for 20th-century American history, and it is well told in Mr. Williams' readable and important book.
The New York Times
David J. Garrow
His portrait of Marshall is rich and valuable.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thirteen years before becoming the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall's place in American history was secured, with his victory over school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. Williams (Eyes on the Prize) offers readers a thorough, straightforward life of "the unlikely leading actor in creating social change in the United States in the twentieth century." Although he was denied access to the files of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where Marshall devoted more than 40 years of his law career, and worked without the cooperation of Marshall's family, Williams has managed to fill in the blanks with over 150 interviews, including lengthy sessions with Marshall himself in 1989. Marshall is portrayed as an outspoken critic of black militancy and nonviolent demonstrations. Williams mentions, but does not dwell on, Marshall's history of heavy drinking, womanizing and sexual harassment. But his private contacts with J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, even while that organization was working to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, receives critical attention. This relationship "could have cost him his credibility among civil rights activists had it become known," writes Williams. Likewise, it would appear that his extra-legal activities and charges of incompetence and Communist connections would, if publicized, have kept him from the Supreme Court, as he himself admitted. Nevertheless, this work will stand as an accessible and fitting tribute to a champion of individual rights and "the architect of American race relations."
Thurgood Marshall embodied the struggle for civil rights in the 20th century as played out in the U.S. courts of law. Marshall, a man of strong character with fierce pride in his race, and a powerful legal contender, held to his principles in the face of opposition from both whites and blacks. Never one to back down from a legal battle, Marshall knew which cases were the ones to pursue, for he was both an idealist and a pragmatist. Juan Williams, a national correspondent for The Washington Post (now host for NPR's "Talk of the Nation") describes Marshall as an integrationist who believed that if blacks and whites could work and study together freely, racial harmony would occur. He pursued his dream through the courtroom as he battled to desegregate schools at all education levels. While he is best remembered for his successful handling of Brown v. Board of Education, Marshall defended countless other cases as chief lawyer for the NAACP. Through sheer determination he continued his battle for racial equality, using his position as the first black Supreme Court justice to hammer home his belief in the rule of law and the legal system. This view often led him into disagreement not only with other civil rights leaders with their nonviolent sit-ins and boycotts but also with the militants in the Nation of Islam. Referred to as "Mr. Civil Rights" by many in law and government because of his legal advocacy for racial justice, Marshall is well serviced by Williams' biography. As a larger-than-life figure who made many enemies as he battled for racial equality, Marshall never lost his belief that the orderly process of law was the road to a democratic system for all people. In this detailedaccount Williams gives us the complete, unabashed picture of a truly original American who overcame racial and social obstacles to bring down barriers of segregation. KLIATT Codes: ARecommended for advanced students, and adults. 1998, Random House/Times Books, 461p, 21cm, 98-9735, $16.00. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: Mary T. Gerrity; Libn., Queen Anne Sch., Upper Marlboro, MD, July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
These two books about a giant in U.S. legal and political history mirror each other in myriad ways, detailing the history of the NAACP, the rise of Jim Crow, lynchings, etc. Ball's (political science, Univ. of Vermont) study contains more legal lingo, which makes for a less interesting read, while Williams's portrait is more revealing of the private side of the justice.
...[A] lively and readable introduction to the justice's personal and professional life, drawing on Marshall's correspondence, other primary documents, and extensive interviews...proceeds case by case through Marshall's extensive legal career...
WQ: The Wilson Quarterly
Jack E White
....[R]eminds us that there is a difference between the hair-splitting legalisms that dominate the current headlines and the rule of law that changes history...richly detailed portrait, Marshall emerges as a born rebel...Williams also provides fresh insights into Marshall's ruthless role in the organization's tortured internal politics.
Juan Williams' accessible, and often powerful portrait of the justice captures the truly revolutionary quality of this figure in American history. . .
David K. Shipler
The story of his extraordinary life contains a measure of our history. . .which takes us to the heights of decency one moment and to the depths of bigotry the next. . . .[The book] offers little from Marshall's briefs, opinions and dissents. . . .[It] captures the sweep of Marshall's impact beyond the civil rights movement. . . .he expanded the rights of all Americans.
The New York Times Book Review
John O. McGinnis
[The] book is most successful in recreating the vanished world of Marshall's upbringing. . . .[it] is at its weakest in its discussion of Marshall's years on the court.
Written with the cooperation of its subject, this is a solid, comprehensive biography that brings into focus a historical giant who has, sadly, faded from view.
As his subtitle suggests, former Washington Post reporter Williams (author of the best-selling Eyes on the Prize), is interested foremost in Thurgood Marshall's role as the leader "of a burgeoning social revolution" during the early years of the civil rights movement. What's surprising is how deeply opposed the brilliant lawyer was to the other two members of what Williams dubs "the black triumvirate." Marshall disdained Martin Luther King Jr.'s non-violent protests as ineffective and resented the media attention King garnered; he saw Malcolm X as a destructive thug. Reviewing Marshall's stunning impact on the nation's legal system first as the NAACP's chief counsel, later as President Lyndon Johnson's solicitor general, and finally as the first black Supreme Court justice Williams dramatically and persuasively makes the case that Marshall, the man who ended legal segregation with his landmark Brown v. Board of Education victory, is by far the most important of the three. Though Marshall's string of legal victories brought him fame as a crusader and savior of his race during the 1950s, he was rejected by militant black-power advocates in the late '60s, when his gradualism and respect for law and order were out of step with the times.
Williams does a good job of bringing alive the private Marshall, a necessary task, since the justice's seclusion during the last 30 years of his life removed him from the public eye. A confirmed drinker and womanizer, Marshall was a charismatic man whose gift of gab was equally useful for negotiating political tightropes, neutralizing critics like J. Edgar Hoover, or putting bigoted southern sheriffs at ease. Williams is uncritical of Marshall's personal flaws, but his reconstruction of Marshall makes for a lively and immensely valuable portrait of a first-rate legal mind and true American hero.
Read an Excerpt
Right Time, Right Man?
Rumors flew that night. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark had resigned a few hours earlier. By that Monday evening, Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall and his wife, Cissy, heard that the president was set to name Clark's replacement the very next morning. At the Marshalls' small green town house on G Street in Southwest Washington, D.C., the phone was ringing. Friends, family, and even politicians were calling to see if Thurgood had heard anything about his chances for the job. But all the Marshalls could say was that they had heard rumors.
As Marshall dressed for Clark's retirement party on that muggy Washington night of June 12, 1967, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. Years ago some of his militant critics had called him "half-white" for his straight hair, pointed nose, and light tan skin. Now, at fifty-eight, his face had grown heavy, with sagging jowls and dark bags under his eyes. His once black hair, even his mustache, was now mostly a steely gray. And he looked worried. He did have on a good dark blue suit, the uniform of a Washington power player. But the conservative suit looked old and out of place in an era of Afros and dashikis. And even the best suit might not be strong enough armor for the high-stakes political fight he was preparing for tonight. At this moment the six-foot-two-inch Marshall, who weighed well over two hundred pounds, felt powerless. He was fearful that he was about to lose his only chance to become a Supreme Court justice.
Staring in the mirror as if it were a crystal ball, Marshall could see clearly only that he would have one last chance to convince the president he was the right man. That chance would come tonight at Justice Clark's retirement party.
In his two years as solicitor general there had been constant rumors floating around the capital about Marshall being positioned by the president to become the first black man on the high court. However, with one exception, no one at the White House had ever spoken to him about the job. That exception was President Lyndon Johnson. Whenever Johnson talked about the Supreme Court in front of him, the tall, intense Texan made a point of turning to Marshall, thrusting a finger in his face, and reminding him there was no promise that he would ever have a job on the high court.
But Johnson was privately talking about putting Marshall on the Supreme Court. For a southern politician, Johnson had a strong sense of racial justice. As a skinny twenty-year-old, he had taught school to poor Hispanic children in south Texas and seen firsthand the disadvantages they faced. Now Johnson's fabled political instincts had drawn him to the idea that he would be hailed by history as the president who put the first black on the Supreme Court. The president had set the wheels in motion by making Marshall the nation's first black solicitor general. And he had confided to his wife, Lady Bird, that he wanted to appoint Marshall to the Supreme Court. But the president had been having second thoughts about Marshall. Was he really a good lawyer? And what about talk that Marshall was lazy? Was it realistic to think he could win enough votes to get by white racists in the Senate and be confirmed?
As he finished getting ready for the party, Marshall replayed all the rumors he had heard about why the president was reluctant to appoint him to the high court. Thinking about it, Marshall got grumpy, then angry. His chance to be in the history books as the first black man on the Supreme Court was fading, and he felt abandoned. The word around the capital was that the nomination would be announced tomorrow. Marshall had heard nothing from the White House.