Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution

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9781588381446: Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution

Three decades after his death, the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black continue to be studied and discussed. This latest and perhaps definitive study of Black’s origins and early influences has been 25 years in the making and offers fresh insights into the justice’s character, thought processes, and instincts. Black came out of hardscrabble Alabama hill country, and he never forgot his origins. He was further shaped in the early 20th-century politics of Birmingham, where he set up a law practice and began his political career, eventually rising to the U.S. Senate, from which he was selected by FDR for the high court. Black’s nomination was opposed partly on the grounds that he had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. One of the book’s conclusions that is sure to be controversial is that in the context of Birmingham in the early 1920s, Black’s joining of the KKK was a progressive act. This startling assertion is supported by an examination of the conflict that was then raging in Birmingham between the Big Mule industrialists and the blue-collar labor unions. Black, of course, went on to become a staunch judicial advocate of free speech and civil rights, thus making him one of the figures most vilified by the KKK and other white supremacists in the 1950s and 1960s.

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From the Inside Flap:

Three decades after his death, the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black remain both an enigma and controversial. This latest, definitive study of Black’s origins and early influences has been twenty-five years in the making and offers fresh, dramatic insights into the Justice’s character, philosophy, and ethics. Hugo Black came out of hardscrabble Alabama hill country, and he never forgot his origins. He was shaped by the early 20th-century politics of Alabama and Birmingham, where he set up a law practice and began his political career, eventually rising to the U.S. Senate. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected him for America's highest court in 1937, Black’s appointment was widely condemned once it was reported nationally that he had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. One of the book’s conclusions that is sure to be controversial is that, in the context of Alabama and Birmingham in the early 1920s, Black’s joining of the KKK was politically progressive and personally ethical. This startling assertion is supported by an examination of Black’s choices amid the conflicts raging in Birmingham at that time between industrialists and labor unions. Black, of course, went on to become one of America’s staunchest judicial champions of free speech, civil liberties, and civil rights and, as a result, he was one of the figures most vilified in the South by the KKK and other white supremacists in the 1950s and early ’60s.

About the Author:

Steve Suitts is a native of Winston County, Alabama, which seceded from Alabama when Alabama seceded from the Union. He is the founder of the Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, and was for 20 years the director of the Southern Regional Council. He now works for the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta, where he lives.

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