Interview with David J. Vann


David J. Vann:

Well, also in the fifties, let me say this, when I — when I came back to Birmingham, of course I was Justice Black's law clerk, I lived with him during the time that the school — the big school decision was being reached. Never discussed it with him until after it was decided. Law clerks were afraid of a news leak, and they had asked the justices not to discuss that case with them. And no law clerk worked on it except Justice Warren's law clerk. I remember on weekends, frequently, toward the end of April, beginning of May, Warren's clerks would come out to the house on South Lee, with a brown envelope for the judge, which I would deliver to him, he would go up to his study. I never asked him what was in there. We had dinner every Sunday night, breakfast every morning, we never discussed it. In fact, the day the case came down, I drove the justice to the court, court met at noon, in those days, about five minutes to noon, I stuck my head in Justice Black's office, and said, Judge, anything I can do for you before you go on the bench? He said no, I said, well I think I'll go to lunch, if it's all right. He said that's fine. And I started down the hall. I went into Justice Jackson's law clerk's office, and I said, Barry, let's go to lunch. He said I can't, my judge is here. And I looked through the door, and I could see into Justice Jackson's chambers, and they were robing Justice Jackson, in his chambers. Well, Justice Jackson had a heart attack, I knew he had been in the hospital. And I said, they wouldn't bring him from the hospital, robe him in his chambers, unless something very important was about to happen, and they wanted all nine justices on the bench. So I rushed downstairs, and said to the other law clerks, in the law clerk's dining room, let's go up, they're fixing to hand down the school case. How do you know? I said Justice Jackson's here. And I can't think of any other reason—I said, Justice Jackson's here, and I can't think of any other reason they would bring him from the hospital to the court. And some of the clerks said no, my judge would have told me. Mrs. Reid's not here, nothing important ever happens unless Mrs. Reid's here. And so I think only six of us went upstairs, and heard the Chief Justice, I have the Court's opinion today in cases 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7. And he began reading Brown against The Board of Education. I later talked to Justice Black, and I think he really thought that it would take this country at least twenty years before you really had an acceptance of the concepts that were imbedded in that opinion. Course he had grown up in the south. He had black servants, he had black people that were part of his life, right up to the day of his death, on a family basis, not inconsistent with old southern practices, although he treated them very differently. I'm sure all these things come into it.