Interview with Judge Robert Carter
QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

LET'S STOP FOR A LITTLE. JUST MAKE A CHECK. EVERYBODY HAPPY HERE? ROLL PLEASE. [overlap] I'M GOING TO ASK YOU TO TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH THE COUNTRY HAD CHANGED IN THIS PERIOD SINCE WORLD WAR II, COMING INTO THE 1950S. MAYBE SOME OF THE KINDS OF FACTORS THAT WERE CREATING A DIFFERENT CLIMATE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS, THE RETURNING BLACK VETS, ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE ECONOMIC SITUATION. I DON'T KNOW WHAT OTHER FACTORS THERE MIGHT BE.

Judge Robert Carter:

Well, before—after World War II there were a great many factors that occurred that brought about impatience. One was the war. We were fighting a war to end racism against Nazi Germany. Second was the entry of Japan into the war which eliminated the myth of white supremacy. And then it was the presence of Blacks in the army, and when I went in the army was segregated, and the segregation was eliminated shortly afterwards. I think it was after my service in the army. I'm not—time has coalesced, so I'm not sure but we started out segregated, with the Blacks not being officers and so forth in the army. And as a matter of fact, the group I was with from New Jersey went to a place in Al—in Georgia and about one third of the people had men, had a high school—I mean had college degrees, some of which had graduate degrees. I had a masters in law at the time and about half of them, at least half had high school degrees. And we went down to this place, and the first thing that the sergeant, I'm sorry it was a Black sergeant who was an old army officer there, and the captain of the group met us, and the first thing he said—he said, "You know, I don't believe in Niggers being educated and don't think that because you have a little education that you're going to get away with any anything here." So, for a while all we did was to—we didn't do anything really to help. All we were doing were cleaning brush and so forth around, and there was no use of the intelligence and skills of these people. Then the opportunity came to—they opened up the officers candidate school. All of this—these kinds of things, I think, created a restlessness on the part of of all of us, that we were not going to take. It created, I think, a sense of restlessness that we weren't really going to take the business of being pushed around, discriminated against without a fight and that that was the problem. Even in—before the war—even in places like I lived and grew up in New Jersey in East Orange, New Jersey, very nice suburb and community, better than New York bedroom. But they had a swimming—one of the best swimming teams in the country and all of the people that went there, all of the whites that went to school at the time had to swim, and had to learn how to and pass various tests. But when at gym class, when the time for whites to go to the swimming pool the Blacks were not allowed to go. We were only allowed to go in the swimming pool on Friday after school. And then they would wash the-water out for the for Monday. The Supreme Court of—in Trenton ruled that in a case that Blacks could not be excluded from school facilities. So I read that in a paper and the next day in school when the whistle blew for all to go down I went down there and of course I created a sensation and so forth. And I insisted on on being a part of that until the end of the term I graduated. They closed the pool down afterwards and just gave up. The whole business of this excellent swimming team and the effort on that basis, but this was a part of the feeling in the country. And I think that as it was going on we were talking about democracy and how much equality was here, and so forth, but at the same time Blacks were being asked to accept the subservient position. And so it was very hypocritical. Then the Myrdal Study came along, the American dilemma,[An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944), by Gunnar Myrdal. Cited by the Supreme Court in Brown.] all of which helped the intellectual fulcrum on this whole question. So this was what was building I think before—from the war into Brown.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

SOUND NUMBER 1132, AND WE'RE GOING TO TAKE THIRTY SEVEN.

Judge Robert Carter:

The build-up, the development of Brown started in the thirties. Charlie Houston, who was the chief counsel at the time for the NAACP, had the idea that the way to end segregation was to require all the Southern states to duplicate all the schools. In other words, grad—the graduate schools, law, medicine, journalism-and everything. There were all these segregated schools—were in the South but there were no graduate schools and what was happening was that the South would pay part of the tuition for Blacks to go outside the state. And what he did was, the first case that the NAACP brought was a case in Missouri called—I guess it doesn't matter what the name of the case was, but it was in Missouri, and it was against the Law School. A black had applied to the University of Missouri Law School and was turned down. And the case was brought and it went to the Supreme Court of the United States, and it reached there about 1937, I think. And the Court ruled that the Blacks could not be excluded from the University Law School unless the facilities provided for them were equal. The University of Missouri had no separate law school. And then from there was a case in there—was a period the war intervened and then the next. Thurgood Marshall came—had come on and they were involved in voting and the Texas primaries. And then the school came up again after the war, I think. Right after the war I came on the staff and the next case was one in a Law School. Case in Oklahoma, and a woman applied. Her name was Lois Sipewell, I believe, and she applied to go to the University of Oklahoma Law School, and they turned her down. And the Supreme Court—that went to the Supreme Court—the Supreme Court held that was discriminatory. She had to be admitted on the same basis as everyone else. The next case was in 19—in the 1950's I think. It was McLauren versus the Board of Regents. Another Oklahoma case, the first case that I argued in the Supreme Court, and in that case the—McLauren was admitted to the Graduate School. He had the same teachers, same books, and so forth, but he was required to sit in the classroom in a special seat, special table in the library, special table in the cafeteria. And the Court held that he was denied equal educational opportunities because of this this kind of separation. We said on that point, that at this point, that they can't, with that decision they have to hold that Brown is—they have to hold that segregation in the public schools are unequal. I should add that before that, in the same time that McLauren was decided, the case was decided in Texas in which the black[sic] had applied to the University of Texas, and the Supreme Court set a standard in that case that it wasn't the physical facilities, it was the intangibles that were—that were required to be equalized. And under those circumstances, they held that Texas had a separate school, Law School, but they held on the basis of the intangibles that there was no equality. So we thought that those two decisions—I think they were decided in 1950—laid the groundwork for Brown. And that's when we decided to launch an attack on public schools, public school segregation.