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Book of the Day: Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and The Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America, by Wil Haygood


Book of the Day: Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and The Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America, by Wil Haygood

Posted By: RebeccaOppenheimer

Larry Miller reviews his pick for Book of the Day:


Wil Haygood’s Showdown reads like a thriller:  face-to-face confrontations, suspenseful situations, last-minute interventions and unforeseen events that place the hero in peril.  Yet, this is no James Bond novel; it is the dramatic story of the Senate confirmation hearing of Thurgood Marshall to the post of Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in the summer of 1967.

Remember the times:  We were in the midst of the civil rights movement, Black Power and urban riots.  Congress had only recently passed civil rights legislation.  President Lyndon Johnson, picking up the mantle of the fallen Jack Kennedy, had initiated a broad range of reforms.  Many opposed the reforms in the North and West and tried to block or evade them.  In the South, resistance to dismantling Jim Crow accelerated the tradition of violence against those who claimed equal rights.  Despite the arrival of a new breed of legislators, the U.S. Senate still numbered among its members long-serving Senators from the South whom Haygood calls “old bulls.”  The Judiciary Committee, in particular, featured James Eastland, John McClellan, Sam Ervin and Strom Thurmond.  All of these had devoted their careers to the maintenance of the status quo in the South and to thwarting efforts by the federal government to effect change.

Remember the man:  Thurgood Marshall had grown up in Baltimore seeing first-hand the debilitating effects of Jim Crow and economic subordination.  After a short time in private practice in Baltimore, he joined the NAACP’s legal team.  Ultimately, he would earn a national reputation for successfully advancing the cause of African Americans and others who had been denied their rights.  Marshall was threatened many times during his frequent trips to the South, but one must remember that his clients habitually faced economic and physical intimidation – even to the point of death – in their efforts to secure justice.

Haygood organizes the book using the five days of the confirmation hearings before the Judiciary Committee as the skeleton.  He adds biographical information on all of the major characters and many of the less-famous people who labored for or against civil rights.  The author relates numerous anecdotes to help the reader understand the legal issues and the socio-political context of Thurgood Marshall’s life and career.  Haygood is a great storyteller whose lively writing will make this accessible to the general reader.

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