tv Mr. Civil Rights Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP PBS February 15, 2016 11:00pm-12:01am PST
narrator :when the u.s. supreme court handed down the 1954 brown decision mandating the desegregation of america's public schools, it was a major victory for civil rights attorney thurgood marshall. but no one, not even the justices, knew what would happen in the south. it didn't take long to find out. thurgood marshal:a feww border states accepted the brown decision with good faith, but in much of the south there was to be the massive resistance for a decade and more. governor herman talmadge: we intend to maintain separate schools in georgia, one way or another, come what may. senator eastland: we are going to retain segregated schools, and we are not going to pay any attention to a political decision by an incompetent political court
narrato:when the naacpcp attorneys won the brown decision they ended the legal basis for segregation and set the south on fire. for thurgood marshall, brown was the final leg in a heroic journey to end segregation. last night, less than an hour after judge grooms' decision... thurgood marshall:you never knew what would happen the next day or indeed the next hour. this same board expelled miss lucy thurgood marshall:no guilty person ever gets hurt. the innocent people get hurt. narrator :for 20 years he traveled hundreds of thousands of miles through war and depression in the jim crow south fighting case by case, setting precedent by precedent, for one of the most important legal decisions in american history.
the ku klux klan was reborn. earlier in the year, the film birth of a nation played to enthusiastic crowds in baltimore the hometown of seven-year-old thurgood marshall . kimberle crenshaw: here's birth of a nation. it is a dramatic film. people are amazed at how realist it feels. and it just so happened to be persuasive along a particular racist line. about who african-americans were, what they were capable of what their true nature happened to be. griffith wed the documentary in to the fiction, so remember they were like turning the pages of history. so it encouraged people to come and view that film with all of the credibility that they give to history books most people, who might not have ever had these kind of experience with african-americans would know who they were,
or would understand the need to constrain and contain them because of this inherent nature of bestiality or inhumanity that they represent then you take in to account that it's not just your average american who is watching this. you've got the president and the supreme court lookingat this film in the white house. so when the federal government that is responsible for protecting the rights of african-americans, itself begins to exercise segregationist tendencies across the federal government thenthe trickle down effect is pretty much absolute. so anyone born in to that period of time would have known there was an absolute cap on what they could aspire to. and every day provided an opportunity for them to encounter the logic of white supremacy, everywhere in every way. juan williams: thurgood marshall was born in baltimore maryland in 1908.
and it's just 12 years earlier in 1896, that you had the supreme court ruling in plessy v ferguson. that's the ruling that says that "separate but equal" is the law of the land in the united states. the supreme court is affirming the separation of the races. larry s gibson:at the time of the civil war, baltimore had the largest free black population of any american city. and through a combination of laws, and in practices, the city became much more racially segregated around about the time when thurgood marshall was born. narrator: marshall grew up a short distance from downtown baltimore on the west side in an african-american neighborhood scattered with european immigrants. his father william worked as a waiter on the railroad. a man with a sharp wit who was sometimes described as cantankerous, he would visit the baltimore city courthouse
and then argue the cases with his son over dinner. his mother norma was an educated articulate woman who taught in baltimore's segregated schools where her son thurgood graduated from high school in june of 1925. in the fall of that same year he left for lincoln university in oxford pennsylvania. in his senior year at lincoln thurgood married vivian bure, a university of pennsylvania student known to her friends as buster. after graduation in june of 1929, the couple moved in with his parents in baltimore. and by the summer after college he had decided to continue on to law school. since his first choice, the university of maryland law school was segregated and off limits to blacks
his only alternative was a night school with a poor reputation on three floors of a brownstone in washington dc. and in the fall of 1929, he began classes at the howard university school of law. thurgood marshall :i had to commute between baltimore and washington, which meant i got up about five in the morning and got home around eight. and then worked after i got home. i lost fifty-five pounds in one year. narrator: each day he would walk back and forth from union station to classes as early signs of the coming depression began to appear. howard law school was evolving from a part-time night school to a full time day school, under the guidance of a man who would have a profound influence on marshall's life.
thurgood marshal:deann charles h houston, he was a graduate of amherst and harvard. very brilliant. very decent person but a very hard man. he used to tell us in our first year, "look at the man on your right and look at the man on your left and bear in mind that two of you won't be here next year." that sort of kept your feet to the fire. narrat or:in the 1920s there :in the 1920s there african-americans living in the deep south, but only 100 were lawyers.
most were poorly educated working in the confines of their segregated communities, writing wills and settling divorces. the notion of a harvard educated black lawyer arguing against jim crow in court was inconceivable to most but that's who charles hamilton houston was, and that's what he intended to do. and he knew he could't do it alone. he would use howard to breed a cadre of young lawyers to attack segregation on a wide scale and change society. kimberle crens:what was new was that it was a group of lawyers having a relationship with a cause. it was african-americans bringing a unique vision to the possibility of what american democracy might look like. vernon jordan:howard, it was the west point of the civil rights movement.
and the lawyers got that commitment to use this law, for the benefit of black people, and the ultimate benefit of white people. narrator :but training a group of qualified african-american lawyers was not enough. in a hostile legal environment houston needed a plan - a strategy. juan williams: houston had started to work with the naacp to look at exactly what was the best strategic approach to blowing apart, destroying the segregation structure in the country. narrat or:the most significant obstacle in houston's way was the 1896 plessy vs ferguson supreme court decision which sanctioned the separation of african-americans on trains as long as they were provided equal accommodations.
the plessy doctrine of "separate but equal" quickly spread throughout southern life in direct violation of the 14th amendment to the constitution. roger wilkins: until you got rid of that interpretation that the constitution permits black people to be treated separately, nothing was possible. and it made you feel little, it made you feel powerless. jose anderson: at the time there was very little political representation of african-americans in congress. in the south african-americans could not vote. there was no political representation in any state legislature. and of course the executive branch of the government was not very friendly. houston thought that the only avenue that was left was the court system. elena kagan :when certain people couldn't access
thepolitical process, couldn't gain congress' ear or a state legislature's ear, he thought the courts had a particularly great responsibility to step in, and to insure thatcongress or the state legislature was in fact complyingwith the demands of the constitution. narrator :houston and the naacp forged a brilliant plan aimed at education. they could not overturn the plessy decision, soinstead they would force the states to comply with plessy by providing truly equal schools for african-americans. that would be too expensive for many states and their only alternative would be to integrate their schools. thurgood marshall:we started sitting around with charles houston and we began to work out this attack on the segregated school system. we talked about it, we did research on it,
we studied it. narrator: houston drilled the constitution and its amendments to aid in the fight. he brought influential friends like clarence darrow to lecture encouraging students to use sociology and other humanities to enlighten their legal arguments. thurgood marsh:we were trained in a program which houston called "making lawyer social engineers" instead of just somebody going out to make a dollar practicing law. kimberle crenshaw: charles hamilton houston came out of the legal realist tradition in which the law is what the law does. you fight for rights, you fight for recognition, and you fight for equality. it's not something that's just bestowed upon you. narrat o:inspired by houston's message, marshall began to study every waking moment- on his long train rides home and in the law library, where as dean houston's best student, he was given a part time job.
thurgood marshall: as student librarian i didn't have anything to do but watch over law books, so in my spare time i read them. and that didn't hurt. narrator: in his final year at howard houston asked marshall to accompany him in the courtroom where for the first time he observed an all-black legal team. rawn james: seeing these attorneys, seeing these black men stand up in a courtroom and address the judge, address the jurors as equals. kimberle crenshaw: howard lawyers, the howard machine. that was the think tank that created the civil rights warriors who then spread out across the country and changed the face of law. narrator: in june of 1933 marshall graduated at the top of his class.
as he waited for the results of his bar exam, charles houston was busy planning a road trip to new orleans. along the way he would document the inequality of southern black schools to support his developing legal strategy. juan williams: they need to document this in order to build a case. to make a brief. and so you get charles hamilton houston, in his car, bags of food, books, blankets, typewriter on the back seat - because he is going to be traveling through the south, and you know the hotels and restaurants don't always accommodate black people for sure. and he invites thurgood marshall to go with him. it's a powerful moment in thurgood marshall's life. rawn james: marshall was astounded by the abject poverty they encountered. in the deepest recesses of the jim crow baltimore was segregated, washington dc was segregated. but they were not segregated in the same way
that rural north carolina was segregated at that time. of course thurgood marshall was no stranger to segregation and the ravages of segregation on a young schoolboy, but he was abosolutely shocked at what they found. these buildings even mocked the very notion of being schools, ofbeing places of education for young children. man's voice: is your school a wooden structure? boy's voice: yes it's wood man: is any part of it brick or stone? boy: no sir man: do you have an auditorium? boy: no sir man: do you have indoor drinking fountains? boy: no sir man: what do you use? boy: water pumps and water buckets man: is there a desk for each child? boy: no sir man: do you have teachers for every grade? boy: no sir man: do you have indoor toilets? boy: no sir rawn james: an astounding act of courage. houston and marshal traveled down throughthe south. and these are the days before the eisenhower interstate system.
so they went in between what i would call safe houses. pull in behind the back at the end of a long days drive, and have a home cooked meal and a place to stay. because sleeping in the car was certainly not an option for them. joseanderson: they would simply try to make sure that they were not out after dark. you know there's always jokes about you need to leave town before sunset. this wasn't a joke. rawn james: and black men had been killed for far less than carrying typewriters, and carrying cameras. i think that trip down south struck a deep chord in thurgood marshall. i think it really stuck to his ribs. fdr: values have shrunk to fantastic levels, taxes have risen... narrator: by the time that marshall returned to baltimore in the fall of 1933,
amer icahad elected a new president, the banks had closed and then reopened. the country had become paralyzed by the great depression. offered a scholarship to harvard to continue his education marshall decided instead to open his own law practice in baltimore. larry s gibson: there were soup lines, with two or three right within a couple blocks of where he was starting his office. so this was a rough time to begin a law practice, whether you were white or black. narrator: marshall hired a part time secretary and took ordinary legal work wherever he could find it. but inspired by houston's call to become a social engineer, he began to concentrate on civil rights instead of better paying cases.
narrator: as marshall struggled in baltimore, houston moved to new york city to become special counsel for the naacp. he would now be able to put in to practice his legal strategy to attack plessy. and he decided to begin in law and graduate schools. but he couldn't proceed without a wiling student. marshall, who had not forgotten being refused by the university of maryland, found donald murray. thurgoodmarshall: they wouldn't let me go to the law school because i was a negro, and all through law school i decided i'd make them pay for it. and so when i got out i proceeded to make them pay for it. narrator: and in the winter of 1934, under the careful guidance of marshall and houston, murray applied to the university of maryland.
juan williams: and a letter comes back a few days later signed by the university president saying university of maryland law school does not accept people of color. marshall's ecstatic, because now he says i've got a policy written out stated and signed, and i am going to file a lawsuit. narrator: on june 17th, 1935, in an empty courtroom, houston and marshall begin the first serious attempt to enroll a black student in a segregated white university. juan williams: a judge at the lower court level, eugene o'dunne, calls the case andmarshall, accompanied by dean houston, and they make the argument that if the university doesn't have a separate and equal law school for blacks, then it must admit blacks to the existing facility. rawn james: they say your honor we're not asking you to overturn plessy versus ferguson. we would not ask you to do that. we know this is a trial court. we are asking you to enforce plessy v ferguson. narrator: under his close supervision, marshall joined houston in the use of
exhaustive research to confront and surprise university of maryland president raymond pearson, as well as the dean of the law school, with questions they could not answer. rawn james: is there a law school for the colored citizens to go to? the answer is no. therefore maryland is violating the rights of its colored citizens under plessy v ferguson. the judge shocks everybody in the courtroom. houston and marshall's argument prevailed. and donald murray was admitted to the university of maryland law school. that case showed that the equalization strategy, as houston put into effect, could work. narrator: what was also working was houston and marshall's success as a legal team. rawn james: it's tough to imagine two individuals who were so different working so well together to such great historic effect.
charles hamilton houston was very abstemious and a proper person, who as one of his close friends remembered, did nothing with levity. thurgood marshall was a true bon vivant. jose anderson: they were quite an odd couple. houston did not drink, did not curse. marshall did. he enjoyed a good card game, his bourbon. justice john paul stevens: he had an army of stories that he would tell. partly because he'd had so much experience himself. he was really a profoundly gifted raconteur. narrator: the murray case made marshall a rising star in the naacp,
but his preoccupation with civil rights left him with a failing law practice inhis tiny baltimore office - cluttered with unpaid bills. when he wrote houston for help, houston asked him to come to new york to work a temporary assignment in the national naacp office. and in october of 1936, thurgood and buster left his crowded family home in baltimore for new york city. when thurgood and buster first arrived in new york, they stayed with relatives until they found a small apartment in harlem. they would now be alone and on their own for the very first time. inan office across town the naacp was still basking in the glow of their first
victory integrating the university of maryland law school - which energized houston's education strategy and gave it momentum. marshall would now share a second floor office with houston to help him move it forward. jose anderson: for the first time in his career the full force of his intellectual ability was focused on destroying jim crow. how do we go about building the legal campaign. kimberle crenshaw: we're going to dream a possibiliy and we are going to do it with craft, we're going to strategize, we're going to do it with finesse, in these southern courtrooms. narrator: soon after he began work in new york, thurgood marshall opened a new front on the attack on separate but equal. in the segregated schools of the south, black teachers were paid less than white teachers. and in december of 1936 marshall began a series of cases in maryland to change
the separate but unequal nature of teachers pay. joseanderson: teacher's pay cases presented a great opportuniy for the naacp becauseteacher's salaries were set in the language of the statute, or they had a pay scale that was printed out on a pay schedule that was public information. in fact, teacher pay cases were plessy violations printed in the written law. narrator: marshall began dozens of teacher pay cases throughout the south, opening new naacp branches wherever he went. making loyal members of the black teachers and expanding the reach and depth of the organization. but it would take more than the teachers to win the legal campaign. jose anderson: there was some concern about lighter-skin african americans who were
many of the professionals, and the working class, sometimes darker-skin african-american communities having different goals and objectives. as the naacp got bigger however, it was absolutely necessary that a common ground was found for the entire black community. and this is where marshall was particularly brilliant, because he was able to make the tent big enough that persons of privlege and working class persons of whatever complexion, all felt part of the legal campaign. because he knew that was going to be the next challenge if the association was going to grow. narrator: while marshall was winning equal pay for teachers, charlies houston had won a supreme court decision to admit a black student to the university of missouri law school - establishing a federal precedent for the integration of higher education. but after four long years on the road houston was exhausted
and increasingly frustrated with the inside politics of the new york office. rogerwilkins: i think there was turmoil inside of the naacp about who gets the credit. how do you market this through our public? they wouldn't use these terms, and i think, you know, i think there were, yeah, i think there were jealousies. thurgood marshall: walter white was the front man. he met with the president. the real problem would come because walter white always thought he was a lawyer. and he would interfere with my legal business and he would get his head chopped off. because i didn't believe in letting laymen telling me what i had to do. roger wilkins: i mean these were nasty fights. thurgood would win a case and walter would have a press conference.
narrator: by july of 1938 charles houston had enough, and he returnd to washington dc, leaving young thurgood marshall in charge of the legal arm of the naacp, now known as the legal defense and education fund. marshall would now be in charge of the entire national naacp legal campaign, alone in an office which was often the last resort for hundreds of frustrated branches and desperate defendants. jose anderson: when marshall became the head of the fund, then his need to be in many places increased, both out of necessity and out of strategy. tens of thousands of miles, every corner of the country, to discuss key parts of the legal campaign,
to drum up support, to drum up finances, to inform people as to what was going on. that was as critical a part of the strategy as the cases. to keep people aware that they were in a fight and they were winnning. thurgood marshall: when i'd go in these towns, i would go down where the poor negroes were andtalk to them. they to me proved what i knew all along, is that the average negro has this complex that was built in as a result solely of segregation. jose anderson: usually these towns were inviting marshall through, you know, a courageous african-american preacher, or a church group. once they would determine that they had suitableconditions in a town, marshall would call to host a mass meeting to generate community interest, resources. they actually believed that the mass meeting shouldgo before the selection of the case.
marshall uld often tell the local community to come to the courthouse to watch what was going to take place. kimberle crenshaw: so people would want to come and see this famous african-american lawyer, really being the david against the goliath. i mean this is a time when african-americans did not look white people in the eye. if you looked them in the eye that could be an invitation to being lynched. and they get to go to a courtroom and see an african-american not only looking a white person in the eye, but treating them as a hostile witness, saying, "well didn't you say?" "how can it be?" really forcing them to account for themselves. accountability was not something that african- americans had access to in this period of time. and here these lawyers were, in court, performing the demands of accountability. that had to be a tremendously exciting thing,
marvelous thing, for african-americans to see. narrator: while marshall could be tough in the courtroom, he often took on a plain rural southern accent that would disarm and endear southern judges and opposing lawyers. justice elena kagan: he brought a sense of humor to almost everything he did. he teased people, he ribbed people. would make you laugh, make you cry, make you do it allat the same time. he was the most extraordinary storyteller i've ever heard. roger wilkins: and the shambling kind of folksy thing that marshall did, very shrewd. you didn't realize the brilliance and the flexibility that he brought to bear with the way he used language and the way he used his own body. and it worked.
narrator: by the late 1930s marshall was traveling 30.000 miles a year, often alone and with little money. sometimes he would visit 2 or 3 different cities in a single day. and when he was home, he and buster made the best of their time together (music) ♪ harlem is harmony, love is a melody, harlem is harmony, ♪ ♪harlem is harmony, harlem is harmony, harlem is harmony. ♪ jose anderson: marshall took advantage of the culture of harlem. boxing matches with joe louis and dinners and music. narrator: thurgood and buster arrived as the harlem renaissance was coming to a close, but the effects were still everywhere, and they were able to reconnect
with school friends cab callaway and langston hughes. (cab calloway music) ♪ hey now, hey now! jose anderson: you had a group of african-american professionals, a group of african-american creative people from which houston and marshall could draw encouragement from the whole post-harlem renaissance era, and so that community actually helped to energize momentum for the legal campaign across the entire country. jose anderson: new york was an exciting place to be the headquarters for the campaign. in fact new york had plenty of race issues of its own.
thurgood marshall: after a riot would break in harlem a code number would go out to all policemen in the 123rd street precinct - that's right in the middle of harlem. in the meantime all of the white policemen in harlem, where the riot is going on, just stand perfectly still. and don't use a weapon, don't use a gun, just stand there until you're replaced. and then these guys go out in these other cars, and the colored fella taps the white fella on the shoulder, he gets in the car. and it about, well less than an hour, there are all black cops there. so where is the race riot? the race riot is gone. and then walter white, roy wilkins and i would get in the radio car and ride around, you know, loudspeakers telling them, "cool it, cool it."
narrator: as the 1930s came to a close, marshall became overwhelmed with requests for help from hundreds of naacp branches. and the original attack on plessy through education had been expanded to include segregation cases in voting, transportation, housing, and often tragic criminal cases. rawn james: he and the naacp did take these criminal cases, not just because there was injustice being done, but also because these cases allowed for more publicity and for greater fundraising, which allowed them to pursue the more slowly moving, plodding school desegregation cases. it was much more exciting for a local reporter to go in to the courtroom and report on some godforsaken murder of some poor woman, and got
a poor sharecropper accused, than it was to take this slow plodding approach about desegregating a nursing school in rural maryland. so there was certainly a sensational aspect to it and all that again came back to the finances. this was part of how they would fund the longer running fight to desegregate the education system. narrator: but the criminal cases which created the most interest in the naacp were also the most dangerous. jose anderson: you can't imagine the setting in these courtrooms. if it were a criminal case, you had shotgun-bearing sheriffs in the courthouse. you do have the threat that someone wants to kill one of the lawyers. so every time they approached the courtroom or made a legal argumet, they were in danger. he was almost tangibly subject to death everywhere he went. i mean everywhere he walked. juan williams: the judges chambers, the courtroom, the sheriffs office, the jail cell,
down at a restaurant or down at a county meeting, or with a politiician, he was playing to win. and he was winning time and time again. rawn james: and he won cases against outstanding odds. and he saved lives. juan williams: and he develops a reputation in small communities that's really incredible. he becomes almost christ-like figure. salvation is going to come if we can just get lawyer marshall to come down here and argue with these southern sheriffs and these southern judges and these all-white juries. and if we can just get thurgood marshall. jose anderson: thurgood's coming! thurgood's coming! people would get excited. the tall elegant well-dressed marshall would swoop in to town. justice kagan: he was arguing to the supreme court one day and then he would go down to mississippi or alabama. to do, you know, this top top quality legal work,
at the same time as you were in fear for your very life is something i can't imagine. narrator: during the 1930s, many teacher pay cases were won, but southern states had found dozens of ways to circumvent the legal attack on plessy in the schools. and the fight had put many african- americans at risk of losing their homes, jobs, and even their lives. as they became disenchanted and weary, many were asking if it was all wort h it. kim crenshaw: people, who were largely poor, and who have no reason to believe that worshipping the god of law was actually going to benefit them. how are you going to persuade them that this is something that they should believe in and invest? so you have someone who is this bigger than life personality, who's doing these amazing things in the courtroom. it would probably make anybody believe in a
possibility. so his notoriety and his fame would bring people to the cause, and it would also make them believe in the cause. that's what made it not just a litigation strategy but a social movement at the same time. narrator: but marshall's fame also made him a target. if locals anticipated danger, he would sometimes be snuck in to town in a hearse. thurgood marshall: in mississippi whenever i stopped, a friend of mine who was an undertaker, would bring one of his big cadillacs with 30 rifles in the back seat. ifanybody had any ideas they got rid of them right quick. narrator: on other occasions a coded message would be spread through the black community that a sick uncle was in town and needed shelter. and then to stay ahead of danger he would sleep in two or three different homes in a single night.
juan williams: he tells the story of being in a southern train station one night as the sun is about to go down, waiting for the train, and here comes the sheriff. thurgood marshall: i was changing trains and i had about a two or three hour stopover.this white man came up beside me, plain clothes, with a great big pistol, and he said, "nigger what are you doing here?" and i said, "well i am waiting," and he said, "what did you say?" i said, "sir! i am waiting for a train." and he said "well, there's only one more train comes through here at 4 o'clock and you'd better be on it, because the sun did never go on down on a live nigger in this town." narrator: by the 1940s marshall had turned the legal campain in to a crusade,
which extended far beyond the schools in to housing, labor, transportation and voting. and nowhere was the white vote better protected that in the state of texas - where democrats dominated and all candidates were selected in the white-only primaries - leaving over one million african-americans unable to vote. marshall knew that eliminating the white primary in texas would open the door to a powerful african- american voting block. finally in 1943, he brought the case of smith v allwright to the supreme court, winning the argument that the all-white texas primaries were unconstitutional. jose anderson: that case was the beginning of the transformation of the entire political system. without smith versus allwright you don't have the
voting rights act. without smith versus allwright you don't have president barak obama. it just would not have been possible. narrator: by the time of the smith allwright case, marshall's reputation had spread, and while touring texas, jazz great duke ellington cancelled his concerts and paid his band, so he could sit in court and watch history being made. roger wilkins: marshall became, particularly in the black community, asuper hero very quickly. he was a celebrity. and that did an enormous amount for the naacp. they had this star lawyer who was legenday for his courage. it took the organization to a different level. marshall really made the second coming in the naacp from the mid-40s on.
narrator: as the cause moved forward through the 1940s, the u.s. entered world war two. marshall was now faced with one more distraction from the education strategy, as he was forced to defend black soldiers who were victims of discrimination in the segregated services. roger wilkins: i think the war really changed things, because these guys came back and some were dead and some didn't have arms or legs or whatever. and they were fighting for freedom in the usa and the american way. they were fairly young men and they had lives to live, and, you know, and they would stand up for themselves in ways that black people earlier had not done. jose anderson: they had been to europe, they had been to places where they could eat where they wanted. where they were not thrown out of public accommodations, and they
were not going to go back on the farm, and do the things they did before the war. narrator: as black soldiers returned from the war, membership in the naacp expanded and marshall was able to hire additional attorneys in the new york office. but as competition for housing and jobs intensified, so did the violence. shortly after sailor james stephenson returned to his hometown of of columbia tennessee, he and his mother visited a local shop to pick up a radio she had left for repair. when the white owner told her he had sold it, her son stepped in. an argument turned in to a fistfight and james pushed the man through a plate glass window. james and his mother were soon arrested and jailed. that afternoon as people left the segregated balcony of the local theater,
they noticed a white mob gathering in the town square. as evening fell rumors of lynching spread and the mob grew. i nthe small black neighborhood called mink slide people shot out the streetlights, locked their doors and posted guards on their roofs. when four policemen walked in to the darkened neighborhood shots rang out and they were injured. the sheriff called for help. the state guard and highway patrol ransacked local businesses, seized arms and beat and arrested more than one hundred african-americans. when it was all over twenty- five were charged with attempted murder of the four policemen. when two defendants tried to escape, they were beaten and died on the way to
the blacks-only hospital 40 miles north in nashville. as the case became a cause- celeb, marshall traveled from new york to help, but mental and physical exhaustion caused him to become serioulsy ill and he returned to a hospital in harlem. jose anderson: he worked himself to death, traveling, eating poorly. the stress of carrying the burden for a whole, in many instances, ungrateful nation, you know is not good for one's health. narrator: tennessee attorneys z. alexander looby and maurice weaver carried on with the case, and all 25 defendants were acquitted. when two more were arrested, marshall returned to columbia to help. when the trial was over and marshall, looby and weaver prepard to leave, some in town believed that justice had not yet been served.
juan williams: and they're driving back to nashville because they can't even risk sleeping in columbia tennessee for fear that they will be killed. thurgood marshall: the mob followed me out across duck river and pulled us over - state troopers and city police. juan williams: and they particularly pick thurgood marshall out of the back seat where he was seated. thurgood marshall: and they put me in the police car and told looby to go on to nashville and don't follow them. juan williams: but the police car they notice, does not go back towards town, but instead takes a turn in to the woods going in the direction toward the river. marshall, sitting in the backseat, he doesn't know what's going on. and these guys have him handcuffed. and as he is approaching the river he sees that they've got a white mob, right down by the river.
and they are all ginned up, liquored up, and ready for action. thurgood marshall: and they drove to the duck river. that's where the mob was waiting. that's where they tried to lynch me. juan williams: it turns out that looby had turned back and he had followed the police car. thurgood marshall: looby wouldn't leave. so eventually they got a little meeting together and they said "aw the hell with it." juan williams: and now the police go right past this lynch mob waiting for thurgood marshall and go back to columbia, and take marshall before a judge and charge him with drunkenness. thurgood marshall: the justice of the peace was a little short man he said "that man hasn't had a drink in 24 hours." juan williams: the judge lets thurgood marshall go. marshall, looby, weaver, go back towards nashville on that main highway. thurgood marshall: they didn't catch us at all. juan william: marshall almost died right there in tennessee.
narrator: when he reached his nashville hotel room, marshall called attorney general tom clark to tell him what had happened. thurgood marshall: i told him i was arrested for drunken driving and tom said "well were you drunk?" i said "no, but five minutes after i talk to you!" roger wilkins: i don't know how you could do that kind of work over and over and over again. he puts his whole body and soul at risk in his attempts to make this country better. i think thurgood was the bravest man i ever knew. narrator: by 1950, marshall had escaped the loaded gun of a dallas sheriff, spent a long night one car ahead of the klan on long island, hid in the bushes from a violent mob in detroit, and finally survived his own lynching.
in this impossible environment, he had won 10 major supreme court cases and set the stage for a direct attack on segregation and in the early 1950s, marshall and his colleagues returned to the schools where the campaign had begun, flooding the courts with five cases that would reach the supreme court and become collectively known as brown v board of education. jose anderson: to go to the supreme court and lose a case attacking the public schools would mean that the legal campaign would come to an end. it took guts to simply make the decision, and marshall made the decision. that intangible gut-level instinct of a great lawyer who says, "now is the time" it's like the deft hand of a racehorse jockey as they try to navigate a horse through the turn. narrator: on may 17th 1954, the supreme court handed down the brown v board of education
decision to desegregate america's public schools, signaling the beginning of the end of legal segregation. justice kagan: the court was able and willing to say "okay, it's time to overrule plessy, to overrule separate but equal." the court was ready to do that in large part because thurgood marshall had made the court ready to do that. the supreme court would not have decided brown v board on its own in a vacuum. this court decided brown v board because lawyers, led by thurgood marshall, and i mean really led by thurgood marshall, brought cases to the court, which finally made the court understand that this was their constitutional duty. kim crenshaw: they had their own plan, their own architecture, their own aspiration about how they were trying to renovate american society and they managed to do it. justice kagan: the moment brown was decided, segregation in every aspect of american life - the writing was on the wall and the days were numbered.
kim crenshaw: that is, i think, the most profound story in american law in the 20th century. justice kagan: i don't know of a legal accomplishment in this country that's greater. thurgood marshall: after all these years the struggle is far from over. society continues to hold out unfilled promises and unrealized aspirations. the incongruity of slavery in a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the equality of all men, floated through our history like an iceberg, awaiting the inevitable collision.
jose anderson: the schools were a vehicle to lead to the larger result that we were going to become one america. our otherwise remarkable constitution would be made whole through his efforts. and marshall, who loved the constitution, was going to make sure it was restored by removing the cancer of jim crow from the soul of its legal system. justice kagan: he had almost a mystical reverence for the rule of law. law matters. that law can improve people's lives. that law is source of human well-being. that it's integral to a society's flourishing. that the country's deep belief in law and in legal institutions was in the end was going to be the thing that broke the back of jim crow. justice stevens: you can't help but be inspired by a man who accomplished what
he has accomplished. i have nothing but respect for people like rosa parks. certainly martin luther king was a great leader, but i think he is on a different level. he is in the pantheon. that's between night and day as far as i'm concerned in terms of their importance to advancing the cause of civil rights. justice kagan: i mean it's really extraordinary, the change that has taken place in this country with respect to racial issues. and there was nobody who had more to do with that change. he was larger than life and i had never met anybody remotely like him. (music by carol caouette and uu choir) ♪ i heard of a city, of a city called heaven. ♪
hello. you're watching "newsline." i'm keiko kitagawa in tokyo. a u.n. investigator said kim jong-un should be officially told he could be held responsible for crimes against humanity. the special monitor of the north korean human rights association, in a new report he asked the international community to find ways to bring north korea's leadership to justice and recommend the creation of an expert panel on the matter. he's also urging pyongyang to stop human rights violations and engage with japan and south korea over their citizens that