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A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in Cause of Equal Rights.

A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in Cause of Equal Rights by Robert L. Carter, The New Press May 2005, $24.95, ISBN 1-565-84830-6

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Carter's memoir is a gem. The man is a real hero. Advances black Americans made in recent decades are fruits of his 24 years as staff lawyer and general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He helped navigate it through fervent, victorious legal battles waged to abolish state-sponsored racial discrimination and segregation. Now age 88 and in his 33d year on the federal bench, Carter is officially a senior judge.

Carter recounts highlights of his life with clarity, candor and concision. The youngest of nine children, Carter was a year old when his father died. His mother washed and cleaned for white people for 25 years. His aversion to racial discrimination compelled him to integrate his high school swimming pool-after which the school closed the pool.

Scholarships helped him through Lincoln University and Howard University Law School. Similarly assisted, in 1941, he received a Master of Law degree from Columbia University Law School.

The maltreatment Carter experienced as a commissioned U.S. Army officer in World War II had extraordinary significance. "Without the Army experience, I might have discounted the impact of race and believed falsely that a black man could rise or fall based solely on his own talents," he writes.

When Carter joined the NAACP in 1944, his professional career took off. Twenty-four years later, Carter, then NAACP general counsel, and "the entire general counsel's office" resigned to protest the firing of Lewis Steel, a white NAACP lawyer. Steel wrote a New York Times magazine article on the U.S. Supreme Court--"Nine Men in Black Who Think White." Carter approved the piece; Thurgood Marshall, then a U.S. Supreme Court judge, loathed it. Marshall, the NAACP's lead counsel since 1938, switched to the Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) in the mid-1950s when, for tax reasons, the NAACP and LDF separated. Carter then became NAACP general counsel. Marshall left the LDF in 1961 for the federal bench.

Carter's judgeship came in 1972 after he survived questioning by U.S. senators, one of whom asked, "Could you be fair to white people?"

The cases Carter reviews in his memoir illustrate the power a federal judge has over our lives. And his insider's discourse on NAACP notables coping with critical legal and race issues--and coping with each other-is unique, a rare historical glimpse. Black "white collar" professionals seldom tell all. The judge tells some.

C. Gerald Fraser is a former New York Times reporter.
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Author:Fraser, C. Gerald
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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