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Wil Haygood’s new book, Showdown, on Thurgood Marshall and racial segregation


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Pulitzer Prize-winning, Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reed reviews Wil Haygood’s new book, Showdown, on Thurgood Marshall and racial segregation, in The Washington Post Book World. Gordon-Reed details Haygood’s cast of characters whom Marshall encountered while being confirmed before the Senate as the first African American Supreme Court justice. Gordon-Reed writes:

On Southern senators
What a cast of characters! There was the chairman of the committee, James Eastland of Mississippi, who had a plantation and whose father had allegedly lynched a black man. In a conversation with the new Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Eastland mused aloud that “you Kennedys always care about the Negras” (usually spelled Nigras).

Strom Thurmond of South Carolina was also “lying in wait” for Marshall, hoping to trip him up while, unbeknownst to everyone but some in his home state, supporting his own half-black daughter.

Sam Ervin of North Carolina--the self-described “country lawyer” from Harvard Law School, who would later gain fame during the Watergate hearings for his waggling eyebrows and down-home demeanor--was also part of the group of long-serving Southern senators whom Edward Kennedy referred to as the “reliable old bulls.” They, he said, “controlled Judiciary as a sort of fiefdom.”

On President Lyndon B. Johnson
There were larger-than-life characters on the other side, too, not the least of whom was Marshall himself, with his great sense of fun and the fearlessness with which he pursued his goal of ridding the country of racial discrimination. The man who appointed him to the court, Lyndon B. Johnson, thought he recognized a kindred spirit. He said to Marshall, “I’m nominating you because you’re a lot like me: bigger than life, and we come from the same kind of people.“

Read the entire review in The Washington Post

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