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Richard Kluger's Simple Justice

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Essay title: Richard Kluger's Simple Justice

Richard Kluger's Simple Justice

While reading Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice, I was struck by the fact that this is probably the most thorough book I have ever read on the Brown v. Board of Education case. Besides the numerous civil rights leaders and soldiers that the book examines, Kluger also provides a startlingly account of Supreme Court justices and the process of decision-making. Perhaps what struck me most about this book, however, was the agonizing struggle of both gifted and ordinary people, both black and white, to reverse four centuries of the racial disparities and injustices that make up the ugliest facet of the United States’ rise to power.

The endemic quality of racism in the American psyche is so overwhelming that it is easy to lose the human element. In this book’s retelling of nightmarish incident after nightmarish incident (the explosive and hideous lynchings are as senseless as the equally hideous and more subtle segregation and caricaturing that endured for, it seems, ever), It was especially interesting to note that America’s view of itself as a noble nation being eaten by the canker in its soul.

I found Part I of Kluger's book "Under the Color of Law" very interesting. One of the things of interest to me was how people during that time, both black and white, thought about the issues. Not merely the abolitionists, or “civil rights-soldiers” so much as the common white and black man, and political leaders, including the more powerful ones like President Lincoln (who were somewhat more indirectly involved in the changes that eventually started to take place).

The 1954 Supreme Court Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision was, according to Kluger, one of the high court's single most important rulings. This decision invalidated the ruling in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson which held that segregated facilities were acceptable as long they were "separate but equal." The court also overruled a lower court ruling that the Topeka schools were substantially equal and hence constitutional.

In reaching its decision the court found that it was inconclusive if the original framers of the 14th Amendment intended to outlaw segregation in educational facilities. Actually, it is clear from the historical record that the authors of the 14th Amendment did not intend banning such segregation. The court also took the attitude that social circumstances had changed regarding the role of public education since 1896, so much that the court simply could not be held by the Plessy ruling any more. The court also took the position that segregation was inherently harmful to minority groups.

The principal hero in Kluger's mind, is Thurgood Marshall. Marshall was a tireless crusader for civil rights. Marshall had been the head of the NAACP's legal division since 1938. Initially, Marshall refrained from confronting the Plessy decision head-on because he realized that doing so would be counter-productive. That being the case, Marshall endeavored to win victories for minorities within the separate-but-equal guidelines. This strategy resulted in a string of victories that encouraged Marshall to challenge the Plessy ruling. Unlike most other authors of books about the history of civil rights, Kluger does not laud Marshall for being a saint. Kluger's portrait of Marshall is both fair and balanced and takes note of Marshall's flaws. Kluger's book is an invaluable source of information about the people who actually filed the historic lawsuits in the first place.

Also striking about this book was that on the one hand there is the exhaustive documentation of race relations in this country; the evolution from sharecropping, the obstacles and outright bigotry of some whites – including leaders and so-called experts – some of whom concluded, through so-called “Sponsored Studies” that

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