TITLE: A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights
SPEAKER: Judge Robert L. Carter
EVENT DATE: 2005/05/25
FORMAT: Video + Captions
RUNNING TIME: 61 minutes
Judge Robert L. Carter, an intellectual architect for the civil rights movement and the man who argued the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court, discussed his recently published memoir, "A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights."
"A Matter of Law" is the story of Carter's struggle for equal rights for all Americans. As chief legal assistant to Thurgood Marshall and then as general counsel to the NAACP, he played a central role in crafting the legal strategy for pivotal desegregation cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board, the celebrated case that outlawed segregation in the nation's public schools. As a civil rights lawyer, Carter led the fight to dismantle the legal structure of segregation in the South, and then brought the campaign North.
Robert L. Carter was born on March 11, 1917, in Careyville, Fla., but moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he was raised. Graduating from high school at 16 having skipped two grades, he attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania earned his bachelor's degree in political science. He graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1940 and earned his LL.M. from Columbia Law School in 1941.
Carter was then drafted into the armed forces where he experienced the racial prejudice pervading the military. In 1944 upon completion of his career in the Army Air Force, he went to work as a legal assistant to Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The next year he became an assistant special counsel at the LDF. Carter was one of the lead attorneys on Sweatt v. Painter and Brown and worked on the many other matters of the fund in those years, including Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Oklahoma. In 1956 Carter succeeded Thurgood Marshall as the LDF's general counsel. Over the course of his tenure at the LDF, Carter argued or co-argued and won 21 of 22 cases in the Supreme Court. Among the most important cases Carter worked on after Brown was NAACP v. Alabama (1958), in which the Supreme Court held that the NAACP could not be required to make its membership lists public.
Carter left the NAACP in 1968 and worked in a private law firm until 1972 when he was appointed to the bench as a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Over the course of his career, Judge Carter received many awards, honors and degrees. He was a co-founder of the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL). He has served as a member of innumerable committees of the bar and the court and has been associated with a very wide array of educational institutions, organizations and foundations. He has written extensively about discrimination in the United States, particularly school segregation, and of his longtime friend and colleague, Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston.