Alice Stovall, Thurgood Marshall’s secretary at the NAACP, recalled the effect Marshall had on blacks when he showed up at courthouses in small Southern towns. “They came in their jalopy cars and their overalls,” she recounted. “All they wanted to do— if they could— was just touch him, just touch him, Lawyer Marshall, as if he were a god. These poor people who had come miles to be there.”
Southern juries might be stacked against blacks, and the judges might be biased, but Thurgood Marshall was demonstrating in case after case that their word was not the last, that in the U.S. Supreme Court the injustice in their decisions and verdicts could be reversed. He was “a lawyer that a white man would listen to” and a black man could trust. No wonder that across the South, in their darkest, most demoralizing hours, when falsely accused men sat in jails, when women and children stood before the ashy ruins of mob-torched homes, the spirits of black citizens would be lifted with two words whispered in defiance and hope:
-From Gilbert King’s outstanding Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove, about Thurgood Marshall’s civil rights work for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, and a case of gross injustice against falsely accused black men in the South.