1938 November 23

Justice Hugo Black Sees Progress Toward “Equal Justice” in the South


In his first public speech since joining the Supreme Court, Justice Hugo Black said he saw progress in the South with regard to “assuring equal justice to all and special consideration to none.” The occasion for the speech in Birmingham, Alabama, on this day was his acceptance of the Thomas Jefferson Medal from the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. His speech was filled with references to Jefferson.

It would be difficult for most observers then or virtually all historians today to cite much in the way of racial progress in Alabama or anywhere else in the South in 1938. It is most likely that Black was interested in a statement that would distance himself from the controversy over his membership in the Ku Klux Klan early in his political career (see September 14, 1937). Despite this early indiscretion, in his years on the Court, Black was a staunch supporter of racial justice.

The Southern Conference for Human Welfare was a leftist activist organization that came under serious attack during the Cold War for its alleged ties to communism.

Learn more: Howard Ball, Hugo L. Black: Cold Steel Warrior (1996)

Watch Justice Black discuss the Bill of Rights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAgQdeup2v0

Learn more about Hugo Black’s life and career: http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1848

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