John Q. Barrett, law professor at St. John’s University and biographer of Justice Jackson, writes on the Jackson email list about Mike Wallace interviewing Thurgood Marshall in 1957:
On Tuesday, April 16, 1957, …. Mike Wallace had a televised conversation with Thurgood Marshall, Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. The interview aired in New York City on Wallace’s interview show, “Night Beat,” broadcast at 11:00 p.m. on the DuMont Network’s channel 5 (WABD).
In May 1954, Marshall and his colleagues had won in Brown v. Board of Education a unanimous United States Supreme Court decision holding racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional.
Three years later, Wallace was interviewing Marshall, age 49, about resistance to Brown, and about what Marshall saw as insufficient resistance to that resistance.
In the interview, Marshall criticized the President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, for not having done enough since Brown to get all of the American people to support the decision. Marshall also stated, with force, charm and humor, his opposition to anti-integration Southern Democrats, his belief in the secret ballot and thus his unwillingness to reveal whether he had voted for or against Eisenhower, and Marshall’s willingness to work with white Southerners coming to terms with Brown.
The rest of that April 1957 week illustrated some of what Marshall discussed with Wallace that Tuesday night. Just two days later, the Florida Senate passed a resolution—which the Florida House had passed earlier—stating that Florida considered the Brown decision “null and void” and would not abide by it. The Florida Attorney General stated that most Floridians thought Brown was wrong, did not want integration and would not integrate their schools. (The Governor, by contrast, criticized the resolution—he said it “stultifies our state.”)
Two days after that, on Saturday April 22nd, Marshall spoke at Rutgers University’s annual academic weekend, during a day-long program devoted to “America’s Race Relations.” Marshall said there that one difficult task ahead was to repeal state racial segregation laws, which he described as “prevent[ing] people from exercising their God-given right to associate” with others. His fellow speakers that day included Southern newspaper publishers Hodding Carter and A. Reed Sarratt, New Jersey labor leader Arthur Chapin, Georgia civil rights leader Harold Fleming, and New York lawyer Telford Taylor.
Taylor had succeeded Jackson as the prosecutor at Nuremberg. That Wallace interview is a startling reminder of just how extraordinary and long Wallace’s career and interviews went. I’ve watched memorable stories involving him (a 50s story about the Black Muslims through an interview about his career in the 2000’s) in each of six decades, all at the national level. Has any journalist had a remotely comparable record?
I previously posted about John Barrett with regard to the article about Jackson, Brown, and the views of Jackson law clerk William Rehnquist.