A Tribute to the Judge | Sojourners

A Tribute to the Judge

In inviting you to read this small tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall, I should, as he taught me when I was still a law student, disclose my interest in the matter. Simply stated it is this: I have known the Judge for 50 years, and I love him.

Not only have I known Marshall since I was a child; he was the first person who ever paid me to do legal work. It was in the summer of 1955, when the Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation decision was still very new and I had finished my junior year in law school. When I arrived from Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the small suite of offices the NAACP Legal Defense Fund occupied in mid-Manhattan, Marshall put me right to work.

"I want you to write me a memo on the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment," he said. "I've done a lot of work on Equal Protection, but I need to brush up on Due Process."

For Marshall to ask a law student to help him brush up on an aspect of the 14th Amendment was a little like Magic Johnson asking a high school player for pointers on how to get the ball in to the low post. I shrank at the prospect. But I attacked the project earnestly and finally produced a few pages strung together with what I hoped was passable legal reasoning.

The memo seemed to shriek INADEQUATE as I passed it tremulously across Marshall's desk. I hoped he would bury it in his briefcase. Instead, he took my memo into the little room that served as the library, where most of the lawyers were working. He stood leaning against a doorjamb while he read, and the people paused in their work to watch him. I tried to hide and I wanted to die. Finally Marshall finished.

"Hey y'all," he said in a loud, bearish voice, "this boy ain't as stupid as he looks."

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