Discussion question with linked interviews to watch

Learning Goal: I’m working on a law discussion question and need an explanation and answer to help me learn.

Mike Wallace’sinterview with Thurgood Marshallprovides rich insight into the politics of rights and equality in the mid-twentieth century. At the time, Marshall was the lead counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and had already won several cases in the Supreme Court breaking down the old Jim Crow laws even before the important 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, also argued by Marshall and his NAACP legal team, which overturned the separate but equal doctrine from Plessy v. Ferguson.

The Marshall 1957 interview is from a TV show called “Mike Wallace Night Beat”. For many years Mike Wallace was a commentator for CBS. In the interview Marshall discusses the aftermath of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, President Eisenhower’s hesitancy to support the decision and the resistance by powerful senators from southern states (all Democrats since there were virtually no Republicans in the south at that time) to the Brown decision and desegregation more generally. Much of the discussion concerns the politics associated with the 1956 Democratic National Convention. They also discuss the sociological implications of the Brown decision. This archival interview makes history come alive. Pay close attention to the Marshall interview and use its insights in this week’s discussion board. A link to the complete interview can be found here. The portion of the program where Wallace interviews Marshall begins at 6:58 and ends at 35:00. I encourage you to watch this entire segment of the video since it provides a fascinating insight into racial politics and law in the 1950s.

Your comments about the video should summarize what was discussed in the interview and explain what you think the interview tells us about law and politics. What portion of the interview did you find most informative? Why? What did you learn from the Marshall interview? Details from the video are important.

Marshall continued to have a stellar legal career. He was appointed to the federal Court of Appeals in 1961 and in 1965 became the Solicitor General of the United States. He later served as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1967 to 1991. Marshall made a large contribution to law and equality in the United States. Some people, such as Martin Luther King Jr., used their charisma and the theory of civil disobedience to seek political and social change (he never held public office). Others, such as the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, during the 1960s and 1970s advocated militancy if peaceful approaches failed. Thurgood Marshall, on the other hand, put on a coat and tie, carried a briefcase and went to court to advance the politics of rights and end the Jim Crow system in America.

The events surrounding the attempt to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in 1957 unfortunately brought to life Marshall’s prediction about President Eisenhower’s need to show more leadership in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education. As the expression goes, if a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, this one showing the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army escorting African-American students into the high school tells much about dilemmas associated with the history of rights in America. Eisenhower ultimately had to use his executive authority to order troops to Little Rock to carry out the integration orders of the federal courts.

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