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Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 373pp.
Publisher: Ballantine Books, Inc.
Pub. Date: July 1997
Edition Desc: 1 MASS MKT
Book ExcerptWHY I WANTED TO BE A LAWYER
of the Court's ruling fascinated me and how
carefully I pored over every image in the extensive coverage carried in the next
week's photo magazines, Life and Look. Like so many other African Americans, I
was thrilled hat the Court's opinion was unanimous, and will revere Chief
Justice Earl Warren and Justice William O. Douglas until the day I die for the
part they played in forging that consensus. The day in October of 1968 on which
I first was admitted to practice before those two great justices remains one of
the most memorable in my life.
But, to me, the most striking images of those exciting days in 1954 were the pictures of the tall, handsome lawyer who had argued Brown before the Court. He was Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And he was a black man, like me. More important, he had used the law and his storied skill and courage as an advocate to change society for the better. He had made a difference for all of us, black and white. Suddenly, I knew why I wanted to be a lawyer-and another hero had joined my personal pantheon. For the rest of my life, Thurgood Marshall would stand right there next to my father, Joe Louis, and Jackie Robinson. . . .
Years later, during the late 1970's, I happened to meet Thurgood Marshall at a reception in Washington, D.C. He was, by then, a former solicitor general and the first African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He also had a reputation as a more than slightly cantankerous old man. I summoned up my courage and introduced myself.
"Nice to meet you, young man," he said simply.
Encouraged by his informal matter, I told him of the impact Brown v. Board of Education had had on my life. I told him that he was the legal advocate whose career had most inspired me. "I am pleased beyond words to meet you," I said, "because I became a lawyer to change society the way you did."
"Thank you," he replied, in what may have been the most precious compliment I ever received. "If you persevere you can do it."
In 1954, that fearless lawyer gave my boyish ambition a man's purpose. More than twenty years later, at a crucial moment in my life, he reminded me never to abandon it. The lesson historian Kelly Miller took from the life of Frederick Douglass applies equally to the career of Thurgood Marshall: "The greatest things of this world are not made with hands, but reside in truth and righteousness and love."