Friday, June 25, 2010

Reality Check: The Other Thurgood Marshall

Reality Check: The Other Thurgood Marshall
by A. Peter Bailey
NNPA Columnist
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
(NNPA) - Thurgood Marshall has received much well-deserved acclaim for the important role he played in the arduous and eventually successful struggle against the proponents of legal White supremacy in the United States. His impressive accomplishments are currently being heralded in a one-man bio-play featuring Laurence Fishburne.

However, there is the other Thurgood Marshall we also need to at least be aware of. This Thurgood Marshall was initially brought to my attention over 40 years ago when reading a December 1960 issue of Mr. Muhammad Speaks, the official publication of the Nation of Islam (NOI). The article, entitled “Thurgood Marshall Sics Cops on Muslims,” quotes then Charlotte, N.C. police chief, Jesse James, as saying that “In the fall of 1959, Thurgood Marshall, chief attorney for the NAACP, invited police chiefs to attend a meeting in his room during the International Police Chiefs Association Convention in New York.

At the time the problem surrounding the activities of the Black Muslims' group was discussed by some of the most important figures in law enforcement today. I was impressed with Marshall’s attack on the group. I received the interpretation from Marshall that, in his opinion, this group was strictly un-American in its origin, its financial resources and its objectives.” Please note the assertion that Marshall invited the police chiefs to his room. Besides James, there were probably numerous other White southern police chiefs present at a time when terrorist acts against civil rights activists were rampant throughout the South.

Those who hesitate to accept anything said by NOI about Marshall will find more information about the other Thurgood Marshall in Juan Williams’ book, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. Though obviously a Marshall admirer, Williams was compelled to note his disdain for and hostility toward Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and his strong collaboration with FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, a powerful opponent of the civil and human rights movements.

About King, he wrote, “Marshall’s relationship with King created emotional difficulty for him. He particularly disliked King’s criticism of President Johnson’s policies on the Vietnam War.” Another reporter, Howard Kurtz, quotes Marshall as saying, dismissively, that “King ‘wasn’t worth didly squat’ as an organizer.” Williams also noted that, in Malcolm X, “Hoover and Marshall now had a common enemy. Though Marshall had cooperated previously with the bureau, he was now totally free to work with Hoover….While the FBI continued to monitor Malcolm X’s speeches and travels closely, Blacks in the South continued to complain about the FBI’s failure to investigate race crimes. When a New York Post reporter telephoned Marshall for a story on FBI misconduct, the lawyer (Marshall) got angry and immediately contacted the bureau. He spoke with one of Hoover’s top aides….Marshall did not want Hoover to think he was feeding information to the reporter….”

Now there is no doubt that Malcolm X said some very harsh things about Marshall, especially when he was with NOI. And Marshall responded in kind. But to work with the insidious J. Edgar Hoover against him or any other Black person involved in the struggle for equal rights, equal opportunity and equal justice, is simply not justifiable on any level. We should be aware that the other Thurgood Marshall did just that.

Journalist/Lecturer A. Peter Bailey, a former associate editor of Ebony, is currently editor of Vital Issues: The Journal of African American Speeches. He can be reached at

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