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Robert L. Carter Civil Rights Legal Stratigist Dies At 94

The lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. From left, Louis L. Redding, Robert L. Carter, Oliver W. Hill, Thurgood Marshall and Spottswood W. Robinson III.

Robert L. Carter, leading strategist and persuasive voice in the legal assault on racial segregation in 20th-century America died Tuesday morning in Manhattan. The former federal judge in New York was 94.

The cause was complications of a stroke, said his son John W. Carter, a justice of the New York Supreme Court in the Bronx.

Judge Carter presided over the merger of professional basketball leagues in the 1970s and was instrumental in opening the New York City police force to more minority applicants.

Mr. Carter’s greatest impact came in the late 1940s and 1950s as a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. The Legal Defense and Educational Fund was led by Charles Hamilton Houston. Thurgood Marshall succeeded Houston who went on tackle desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Often laboring behind the scenes, Judge Carter had a significant hand in many historic legal challenges to racial discrimination in the postwar years. None was more momentous than the landmark case known as Brown v. Board of Education. Decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Brown abolished legal segregation in the public schools throughout the United States.

Mr. Carter’s well-honed argument that the segregation of public schools was unconstitutional on its face became the Supreme Court’s own conclusion in Brown. The decision swept away half a century of legal precedent that the South had used to justify its “separate but equal” doctrine decided in its’ 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

Underpaid and overworked, Mr. Carter and his Legal Defense Fund colleagues argued before the court that the South’s schools rarely offered anything like equal opportunities to black children. Segregation itself, they contended, was so damaging to black children that it should be abolished, on the ground that it was contrary to the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal rights to all citizens.

Mr. Carter spent years doing research in law and history to construct that legal theory before it reached the Supreme Court. Though aspects of segregation law had been struck down before World War II, Mr. Carter’s task was still daunting. His challenge was to persuade the Supreme Court to overturn, finally, a looming obstacle to equal rights, the court’s 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. That ruling upheld a Louisiana law requiring racial separation on railroad cars. The South used that decision to justify a wide range of discriminatory practices for years to come.

“We have one fundamental contention,” Mr. Carter told the court. “No state has any authority under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities among its citizens.”

Mr. Carter insisted on using the research of the psychologist Kenneth B. Clark to attack segregated schools, a daring courtroom tactic in the eyes of some civil rights lawyers. Experiments by Mr. Clark and his wife, Mamie, showed that black children suffered in their learning and development by being segregated. Mr. Clark’s testimony proved crucial in persuading the court to act, Mr. Carter wrote in a 2004 book, “A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights.”

As chief deputy to the imposing Mr. Marshall, who was to become the first black Supreme Court justice, Mr. Carter labored for years in his shadow. In the privacy of legal conferences, Mr. Carter was seen as the house radical, always urging his colleagues to push legal and constitutional positions to the limits.

Mr. Marshall had encouraged him to play the gadfly: “I was younger and more radical than many of the people Thurgood would have in, I guess. But he’d never let them shut me up.”

Robert Lee Carter was born in Caryville, in the Florida Panhandle, on March 17, 1917, the youngest of nine children. The family moved to New Jersey when he was 6 weeks old, and his father, Robert L. Carter, died when he was a year old. Annie Martin Carter, his mother, took in laundry for white people for 25 years.

Mr. Carter recalled experiencing racial discrimination as a 16-year-old in East Orange, N.J. The high school he attended allowed black students to use its pool only on Fridays, after classes were over. After he read in the newspaper that the State Supreme Court had outlawed such restrictions, he entered the pool with white students and stood up to a teacher’s threat to have him expelled from school. It was his first taste of activism, he said.

Judge Carter attended two predominantly black universities: Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he enrolled at 16, and Howard University School of Law in Washington. Enrolling in Columbia University as a graduate student, he wrote his master’s thesis on the First Amendment. Parts of the thesis was used in preparing for the school segregation cases in the 1950s.

Mr. Carter joined the Army a few months before the United States entered World War II. That experience made a militant of him, he said, starting with the day a white captain welcomed Mr. Carter’s unit of the Army Air Corps at Augusta, Ga. The captain, Mr. Carter states in his memoir, “wanted to inform us right away that he did not believe in educating niggers.”

“He was not going to tolerate our putting on airs or acting uppity,” Mr. Carter said.

In spite of repeated antagonisms, Mr. Carter completed Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant. He was the only black officer at Harding Field in Baton Rouge, La., and promptly integrated the officers’ club, arousing new anger. The determined Mr. Carter was soon transferred to a training base in Columbus, Ohio, where he continued to face racial hostility.

After leaving the service in 1944 he was hired as a lawyer at the Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The organization was then the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It later became an independent organization. By 1948, he had become Marshall’s chief deputy and soon became active in the school segregation cases. One notable case was Sweatt v. Painter, in which the Supreme Court ruled in 1950 that the University of Texas Law School had acted illegally in denying admission to a black applicant.

Mr. Carter was also involved in housing discrimination cases, the dismantling of all-white political primaries in several Southern states and the ending of de facto school segregation in the North.

Mr. Carter was disappointed when Marshall passed him over and chose a white staff lawyer, Jack Greenberg, to succeed him as director-counsel of the fund in 1961. Considering it as a demotion, Mr. Carter moved to the N.A.A.C.P. as its general counsel. By then the NAACP was a separate entity. Mr. Carter resented what he considered as Mr. Greenberg’s undercutting him.

Mr. Carter resigned in protest from the N.A.A.C.P. in 1968 when its board fired a white staff member, Lewis M. Steel, who had written an article in The New York Times Magazine critical of the Supreme Court. After a year at the Urban Center at Columbia, he joined the New York law firm of Poletti, Freidin, Prashker, Feldman & Gartner. President Richard M. Nixon nominated him to the federal bench for the Southern District of New York in 1972 at the recommendation of Senator Jacob K. Javits, Republican of New York.

On the bench, Judge Carter became known for his strong hand in cases involving professional basketball. He oversaw the merger of the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association in the 1970s, the settlement of a class-action antitrust suit against the N.B.A. brought by Oscar Robertson and other players, and a number of high-profile free-agent arbitration disputes involving players like Marvin Webster and Bill Walton.

In 1979, his findings of bias shown against black and Hispanic applicants for police jobs in New York City led to significant changes in police hiring policies and an increase in minority representation on the force.

Mr. Carter, who lived in Manhattan and died in a hospital there, married Gloria Spencer of New York in 1946. She died in 1971. Besides his son John, Judge Carter is survived by another son, David; a sister, Alma Carter Lawson; and a grandson.

Well into advanced age, Mr. Carter retained the fire of a civil rights fighter who believed that much remained to be done in the pursuit of racial equality.

“Black children aren’t getting equal education in the cities,” he said in an interview with The Times in 2004. “The schools that are 100 percent black are still as bad as they were before Brown. Integration seems to be out, at least for this generation.”

“I have hope” he went on to say.

“In the United States, we make progress in two or three steps, then we step back,” he added. “And blacks are more militant now and will not accept second-class citizenship as before.”

If you wish to hear about the Brown decision in his own words, you can view the Febone1960.net Black History Month Calendar video clip which includes Judge Robert L. Carter.

Febone1960.net extends its’ condolences to the family of this legal genius and fellow Howard Law Alum.

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    Posted 2 years, 8 months ago.

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    Newt’s Pimping, Prostitution & Drugs or Janitor In A Drum America’s Only Option: Not So Says The President

    Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    Obama says the middle class is in jeopardy. Many think that the backs of the middle class have been broken by the antics of the financial institutions. Thus, the making of Occupy Wall Street.

    Recently, President Obama made a speech to the 99 percent who have seen their movement disbanded across the country, sometimes in violence and often with multiple arrest. The President’s speech seemed to echo the sentiments of Teddy Roosevelt who gave a speech in the same location in 1910.

    101 years have seen a lot of changes. In 1910, we were still an agriculture society but was we were also firmly entrenched in our industrial revolution. The decade of the 1910s was the age of the great industrialist and financier.

    Yet as we look and compare the different time periods, it appears that we are back in the 1910s. The root of most of the problems of urbanization and immigration was in the economic status of most of the people at the time. The main source of work in the cities was factory jobs, which had their wages regulated by the tyrants who owned the factories. Since there was a great abundance of workers, both poor farmers who moved to the city seeking financial freedom and immigrants who came to America because they had heard it was the land of milk and honey, there was no need for the factories to entice workers with high wages. Therefore, the working middle class was actually not much of a middle class at all! They had to struggle to make ends meet.

    Families who had no savings were forced to place their votes for whether the father’s union goes on strike. Due of to a lack of money to be used as a cushion during the time the workers were on strike, many people did not have the ability to fight for higher wages and better conditions. If they went on strike, they would no longer have the money to buy food and pay rent. For these reasons, the working conditions in the cities had little improvement over the years.

    To make ends meet, families had to send their children off to work in the factories. Young boys often had to sit and pick out pieces of slate from coal, hurting his hands, running the risk of getting killed, and suffering health problems from breathing the coal dust-all for just sixty cents a day. For some families, this was the only option they saw to keep food on the table.

    Today, sitting pretty as a member of the 1 percent Newt Gingrich recommends that poor kids (who were once middle class until the financial collapse) work as janitors in their schools. Otherwise Newt believes that they are destine for a life in prostitution, pimping and drugs.

    Take a look at President Obama as he speaks words of inspiration to the 99 percent.

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      Posted 2 years, 8 months ago.

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      “THE HELP”: Controversy or Misunderstanding?

      The Help came out the gate in second place at this weekend’s box office. On the heels of Planet Of The Apes, the women driven film grossed 26 million dollars on 2534 screens. Planet of The Apes in week two grossed 27 million dollars on 3691 screens.

      Today’s interview was inspired by Mary Mitchell’s column in the Chicago Sun Times entitled ‘The Help’ Surprises With Dignified Portrayal of Black Maids

      Take a look at the article and listen to the interview with Emma Young, CEO of Emma Young Creative Inc. who has a different take than Mary Mitchell on “The Help”.

      What is it about image of black maids that make Black folks uncomfortable?

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        Posted 3 years ago.

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        Octavia Spencer Busting Out In “THE HELP”

        Viola Davis (left) Octavia Spenser

        You may not know the name, but you’ve seen her face. Octavia Spenser is a very busy actress. Ms. Spenser has appeared in three films for this year. That is busy in Hollywood, especially for a woman of color in these hard economic times.

        One of those films is “The Help”. Octavia Spenser is busting out in “The Help”. After you see her outstanding performance, you will never forget her name. The name Octavia Spencer will roll off your tongue as easy as Halle Berry.

        The film will make you cry, but Octavia’s character Minny won’t let your tears stream for long.

        It appears that the producers of this film got it right when it came to casting. Like Viola Davis, Spencer is a product of the south. Born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, the comedic actress attended Auburn University. Spencer is remarkable with her facial expressions, and can deliver a line without saying a word.

        In a previous post I boosted about Viola Davis carrying and delivering in The Help. Octavia’s performance greatly assist in the delivery. I can also see an Oscar nomination for Ms. Octavia Spenser. I would not be surprised if she carried home a gold statute.

        The Golden Globe may also be in the cards for both of these fine actresses.

        It has been brought to my attention that some people are insisting that people should not go out to see this amazing film. I don’t agree. I think this film is the product of a well written script, and the acting from the entire cast is superb.

        Further, it pays homage to a group of women who are so deserving. My maternal grandmother was a member of this reverent group of hard working women. I remember her having a rough life like the women in the film. I also remember her giving me unconditional love. I felt her presence through Viola’s performance. She was a strong no nonsense woman when it came to white people, so I also felt her presence through Octavia’s performance. Oh she would have enjoyed this film! I can see her now laughing uncontrollably at Minny’s revenge.

        The film didn’t nor could it touch on every despicable act they were faced with. This film is not about the relationship with the white men, but with the white women who had charge of the household. The film appears to have adequately described that relationship.

        As I said earlier, regardless of race, people should run out in droves to see this educational yet entertaining film.

        Look forward to seeing you at the Oscars Viola and Octavia.

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          Posted 3 years ago.

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          Viola Davis Carries and Delivers The Help

          Last evening, I had the pleasure of seeing The Help in a movie theater in Greensboro, N.C. The Help pays tribute to the black domestic workers particularly those who worked during the civil rights era. This particular story takes place in Jackson Mississippi, a town that is known for arresting and jailing freedom riders and the murder of civil rights leader Medger Evers. In a nutshell the town of Jackson is and will always be known as a racist violent supporter of the unconstitutional Jim Crow laws.

          There of course were those whites who despised the Jim Crow way of life and would stand up to their racist associates. Such is the case in The Help. Sketter, an Ole Miss graduate who is not considered to be attractive comes back home after graduation and finds a job at the Jackson Journal giving cleaning advise to white female aristocracy. Because she was raised by the family’s black maid, she knows nothing about cleaning. While away at college, she is told that their black maid quit to go live with her daughter in Chicago, so she reaches out to a friend’s maid to solicit answers for her cleaning advice column. The maid played by Viola Davis has no choice in the matter and takes on this chore along with caring for a little girl whose mother never touches the child, cooking, washing the clothes, as well as cleaning the entire house.

          While getting the advice from the maid, Sketter decides to write a book about the help, especially after finding out that the maid (played by Cicely Tyson) she loved and adorned was fired. Sketter finds that the maids are reluctant to talking to her, however, after Medger Evers is murdered for registering blacks to vote and a maid is arrested and imprisoned, the maids change their mind.

          The story briefly touches on how these under paid women are cheated out of their social security contribution by employers who build separate bathrooms outside the home for the women to use. Showing that the scars of slavery run deep, it also touches on the domestic violence experienced by these women from their under paid over worked husbands who are treated less than human as well.

          What it doesn’t show is the domestic violence the children experience from the mothers who of course come from a long line of domestic workers dating back to slavery.

          Unlike The Secret Of Bees, the acting is superb. Nothing against Queen Latifah and Alicia Keyes, but these women were not able capture the era, thus rendering their performance dead on arrival. Perhaps they did such a poor job because they had nothing to tap into.

          Oscar nominated Viola Davis who turns 46 today (August 11, 2011) was born on her grandmother’s farm in St. Matthews, South Carolina. Although the two time Tony and Drama Desk award winner grew up in Rhode Island, it appears she was able to tap into her southern roots for this role.

          Considered as one of the best actors whether it be stage or screen, Ms. Davis carried this film on her shoulders and delivered. I can see not only another Oscar nomination, but I can envision Ms. Davis carrying the coveted statute home this time.

          The film is educational as well as entertaining. You will have tears in your eyes, but there are plenty of laughs as well, as the film shows how these hard working women survived the inhuman treatment by their employers whose ignoramus mentality resembles that on Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin.

          In this moronic political environment surrounding the first African American U.S. President, people regardless of color should run out in droves to see this picture. You won’t regret it. Also take look at the trailer above.

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            Posted 3 years ago.

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