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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars


TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 16 September 2013
I have to confess, to my shame, that I never really knew who Thurgood Marshall was until I read Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (P.S.) earlier in the year, in which he represented the 'Groveland Boys'. I found the glimpse of his role as chief lawyer for the NAACP in some of the most important civil rights cases fascinating, so when I came across this book I snapped it up to read. Having done so, I would say it is a must-read for anyone remotely interested in the Civil Rights Movement in America.

Thurgood Marshall was involved in almost all of the major civil rights cases of the era, most visibly Brown v. Board of Education, that paved the way for the integration of schools. He represented African-Americans against trumped-up murder charges, assault and rape charges; investigated charges of racism in the armed forces in Korea and Japan; won cases ending segregation on interstate buses, in colleges and universities, in housing contracts and primary elections; made the first challenge against the 'separate but equal' doctrine. After his career in the NAACP he later appointed the first African-American Solicitor General by JFK, and later the first African-American Justice of the Supreme Court.

Thurgood Marshall was arguably one of the most important figures in the Civil Rights Movement; many would argue, and I'm inclined to agree after reading this, that his role was as important, if not more so, as that of Martin Luther King Jr. Whilst King may have lent the movement its Messianic figurehead, Marshall was the one who arguably led the vanguard of change, believing as he did that change in minds and attitudes would necessarily follow changes in law.
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on 5 November 1998
Despite the great number of biographies and reporting about the justices and inner working of the Supreme Court, no recent release tells the true story behind the story -- the human lives behind all the politics and power. However, in a new biography about the first African-American Supreme Court justice, Washington Post writer and Fox News commentator Juan Williams makes Thurgood Marshall come alive beyond the legal arguments and politics. Williams takes the reader throughout the course of Marshall's life, and ironically focuses only the final four chapters on his Supreme Court years.
Using this technique for the life story of most past and present Justices would be a meandering re-telling about growing up in a political family, attending prestigious schools, and making lots of money before landing a coveted job on the high bench. But Marshall's life is so completely different from most of the men (and they have been almost exclusively men) that have wielded this ultimate judicial power over the country. And it is that unique life story that allows Marshall to transform the nation.
Starting with his rise from a meager beginning in Baltimore, Williams guides us through the fascinating history of Marshall's activist family - from the defiant runaway slave for one grandfather to the other grandfather, a surly Civil War veteran who challenged the brutal racism of the local police. It was in this 19th century city of Baltimore, full of free blacks who owned their own businesses and ran their own private schools, that formed the community that gave birth to Thurgood Marshall. These activists, who demanded that their rights be respected even in a time of Jim Crow oppression, would nurture Marshall's social consciousness.
Marshall's childhood is filled with his own battles against the system of segregation that oppressed so many African-Americans across the country. Particularly poignant was the story about Marshall, working as a delivery boy during high school, being pulled off a trolley car and called "Nigger" because he stepped in front of a white woman. Marshall, strong-willed even as a teen, would not take that kind of abuse, and a huge fight broke out between Marshall and the white man who had grabbed him.
But Marshall's struggle against Jim Crow only increased after he went away to college. Attending Lincoln University, he fell into a friendship with the poet Langston Hughes, who was also a student at the all-male school. Their discussions about American society lead Marshall to take stronger views on race. But it wasn't until he graduated college and wanted to attend law school that the revolutionary spirit fully took hold of Thurgood Marshall. The University of Maryland would not allow him to attend because of their racist policies. So Marshall was forced to take the train everyday from Baltimore into Washington to attend law school at Howard University. There, the tough-minded dean, Charles Houston, took the bright young student under his wing and gave Marshall the training and the desire to do something radical - begin the long process of ending segregation.
Williams recounts the many years of Marshall's work with the NAACP, where as the lead attorney he won several notable cases ending discrimination in everything from housing to voting to bussing to teachers salaries. But it was his work in Brown versus Board of Education that really broke the back of segregation and made Marshall, as Williams contends, one of the most important lawyers of the 20th century. Williams goes through several of these historic cases, but the most compelling tales involve Marshall's defense of poor black men who had been accused of rape or murder and are rushed into kangaroo courts by southern, all-white law enforcement. Marshall's triumphs and failures all come out in these stories filled with both great humor and tremendous tragedy.
Thoroughly researched and with an impressive set of interviews, including over half-dozen of Marshall's colleagues on the Supreme Court, we get to see the full side of Thurgood Marshall. From his fights and surprising friendship with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, to his competition with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is clear through this parade of the famous and infamous that Thurgood Marshall had such a profound impact on this country. It is unfortunate that at the time of his death, he felt so forgotten and unappreciated.
This lengthy biography covers so many important issues of American life and law. While readers will not find theoretical legal analysis, they will become absorbed in a rich narrative filled with lively characters. But most importantly, this book of Marshall's life brings into focus something that has been lost in recent shouting matches about Louis Farrakhan, affirmative action, and other issues of race that divide us. And that simple truth is that individual rights must be afforded the fullest protections of the law. That was Marshall's life work and that is his legacy.
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on 21 December 2015
After reading "Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary," it is hard not to think that Thurgood Marshall was the most important civil rights leader of the twentieth century. He isn't as well known as the more famous and romantic personalities of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, but he did more to change the average life of black Americans than either of the other two. And as a Supreme Court Justice, he not only advanced the lives of Black Americans but of all minorities too. This book convinced me that a slow and steady attack at the injustices of American life through the courtroom by changing American laws has a far greater impact on people's lives than mass protests and calls for revolution. It is very inspiring book and gives credit to the law profession.

I found the debate about integration vs segregation especially interesting. Marshall wholeheartedly believed that the only way to achieve true equality was through complete integration in schools and society. Ironically, many black leaders today argue the opposite; that Black Americans should focus on themselves, in their own communities, their own schools, and on their own culture. I'm not sure which is better, and the debate continues, but it is an important aspect of this book and to understanding Thurgood Marshall and race relations today.

The narrative focuses mainly on his law career and the many advances in civil rights law that he helped force, so his private life is not given much attention. The author, of course, mentions his drinking issues and his infidelities, but they are not elaborated upon and so the personal side of Thurgood Marshall is not explored. This is most likely because those closest to him refused to cooperate with the author. Too bad really, because this is a very commendable book. It would have been nice, however, to have had more details on the many cases he fought; especially Brown vs the Board of Education. The author supposes that the reader is thoroughly familiar with this case, so key details are left out, personalities are not discussed, etc...the focus is on the courtroom battle itself and its aftermath. More detail would have enhanced the book greatly. This is also true for the episode of desegregation in Arkansas, and many other courtroom battles.

That said, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in race relations in America today.
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on 6 April 1999
Thurgood Marshall needs a better book than this one, but in the absence of a more comprehensive, analytical volume, that would be alot longer & cover his thought and his life, this work will have to do. Juan Williams is a very good writer, the prose is "breezy" and the book is a fast read laden with interesting characters & interesting gossip. It shows Marshall's central place in 20th century, indeed US historical, civil rights in various arenas, not just racial justice. He is a very appealing person as well ... someone any reader probably would enjoy having known. I noticed in the forward that Williams was prevented from talking to some of the people closest to Marshall, which is most unfortunate. The book is not an expose but a very favorable view of the man. Marshall's relatives should be kicking themselves for not having shared their views & experiences with Williams. The next biographer will almost certainly be a more critical writer than Williams. Where the book falls down is in its exposition of Marshall's thought & some of the details of his legal work. So we come away, unfortunately, not understanding that Marshall was an intellectual giant, not just a legal-oriented civil rights leader. I enjoyed this book very much but gave it only 3 stars because it is almost entirely missing Marshall's intellectual life.
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on 22 December 1998
William's biography doesn't duplicate earlier ones written shortly after Marshall's death. Williams presents a balanced approach to Marshall's private life and public accomplishments. He argues convincingly that Marshall and his contempories consciously and fearlessly went about leading a socio-legal revolutlion. Anecdotal experiences of Marshall at the hands of "lawless" judges and lawmen are vivid recreations of the intense emotion and feeling of Souther efforts to resist and black efforts to legally end segreation. In his heyday, Marshall was anything but a "family man." And, into today's, climate his private life would have been a source of scrutiny and public debate. The dynamics of leadership inside the NAACP and LDF are vividly protrayed. Marshall was an organizer who drew talented people around him in part because of his magnetic personlity, and in part because of their belief in the "rightness" of their cause. The reader feels the pain of Marshall's sense of dispondency and betrayal in his later years as his dream of integration is turned inside out. Marshall truly belongs in the annals of American Revolutionaries.
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on 2 February 1999
The American educational system has done an injustice by not covering the life of Thurgood Marshall in a satisfactory way. We were cheated of this information in grade school. Now, don't cheat yourself. This book is written in such a way it will bring you back to the 30's through the 90's. Thurgood Marshall played an incredible role in the movement. I'm a 29 year old man and had I had this information coming up, I would have found a way to become more proud of my heritage than I am.
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on 12 May 2010
This gave an insight into not only one person's life but a chronological history of that person's impact on American life and legislature. For this American who did not appear to fully appreciate the era through which I lived I found the information in this book compelling. It was hard to put down. I think I now have a more complete understanding of the history through which I lived.
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on 29 March 1999
Williams does a great job of illustrating that Marshall's legacy was established long before he ever was placed on the Supreme Court. In fact, his performance on Court was disappointing. A great book about a great man. I have given this book to many others as a gift.
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on 26 July 2013
Brilliant book, an absolute essential for anyone undertaking a historical evaluation of either African American Civil Rights, The US Supreme Court or Thurgood Marshall himself. This book was also extremely interesting in a non-academic capacity as well.
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on 18 May 1999
Marshall had his human foibles, but none that affected his dedication to the civil rights movement. Difficult times always elevate great people to action, and he was great.
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