Constance Baker Motley, James Meredith and Jack Greenberg
Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
The Archives recently conducted an oral history with Joel Motley about his mother Constance Baker Motley, the great NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) lawyer and federal judge. We asked him specifically whether Thurgood Marshall had passed her over to be director of the LDF when he left in 1961 to a federal judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals. He said that Marshall probably thought that it would have been “an extra burden” for an African-American woman to take on that role at that time. (Click here to watch the video.)
I was reading Judge Motley’s autobiography today, Equal Justice Under the Law, and found that she largely agreed with her son, but that there was another layer to the decision related to the competition between Marshall and Robert Carter, the general counsel of the NAACP which was separate from the LDF. Marshall mistakenly thought Motley was aligned with Carter and instead turned to their LDF colleague Jack Greenberg to be his successor at the LDF. Interestingly, Bella Abzug supported Motley, as did Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers. (To read the excerpt from Motley’s autobiography, click here.)
As we in the Northeast wait out the blizzard, it’s a good moment to think about how we can learn from different sources and how we can teach ourselves and our students about the nature of sources and how to interpret them. If you would like to learn more about the civil rights movement, check out our primary source lesson on Mississippi Freedom Summer. As always, please feel free to contact me if you want to learn more about this or any other Archives related topics.