Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Marshall: A Life Defined by the Rule of Law

M_09752 Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in MARSHALL.Photo credit: Barry Wetcher / Distributor: Open Road Films
Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in a scene from Marshall SOURCE: Time.com crediting Barry Wetcher / Open Road Films
I hope that you enjoy the "Marshall" movie as much as I did.  I am always intrigued by the challenge facing Hollywood when they try to portray historic figures like Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights crusader and Supreme Court Justice.  This biographical movie only features one case in an epic legal career. The movie does take a few liberties with the historical record but on the whole, I found the movie to be both highly entertaining and revealing of a "legal super hero."

One of the most admirable things about Thurgood Marshall was his absolute faith in the Constitution and our legal system.  He believed that the law not protest was the best route to change hearts and lead to equality.  One of the scenes in the movie shows Thurgood Marshall drinking from a "Whites Only" water fountain in a train station.  This is not something that Marshall would have done.  He was not a protester or a law breaker.  He believed in following and enforcing the constitution to eliminate unjust laws at the local, state and federal levels.  Marshall knew without a doubt that enforcing the constitution with a stellar legal defense was the best tool to achieve the aims of the NAACP.

Marshall carefully selected cases and plaintiffs like the one featured in this movie to bolster the NAACP Legal Defense fund.  He started his career at the NAACP as a one man band.  At the time he left his post at the NAACP he had recruited a small army of lawyers to carry the banner of freedom and justice for all.

The movie also gives a peek into Marshall's character as a man and a husband. He lived in Harlem during the 1930's Renaissance period and socialized with leaders in the arts such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston and his college buddy, Cab Calloway.

Time magazine has an article online about the Marshall movie that gives some historical context about the particular case that is featured:    http://time.com/4972645/marshall-movie-true-story/ If you want the Cliff notes version of this article you might like this quote from the Time.com:
"At this point in his career, Marshall was better known to the public for his defense of criminals than for his attacks on Jim Crow," Juan Williams writes in his biography of Marshall. "He stood as a living, breathing shield for black people against the lynch mob as well as the judge's death sentence."
Juan Williams is interviewed extensively in an online documentary of the life of Thurgood Marshall: https://www.biography.com/video/thurgood-marshall-full-episode-2192395509. I am adding Mr. Williams biography to my reading list. One of the other quotes from this documentary that helps to give context to the movie was "Thurgood's coming!"

A New York times review of the movie explains why that phrase gave hope to a persecuted people:
In "Devil in the Grove," which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, Gilbert King wrote about Marshall’s heroic trial work. “Across the South,” Mr. King wrote, “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: ‘Thurgood’s coming.’” (A film adaptation of “Devil in the Grove,” which focuses on a different case, is in the works.) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/08/movies/thurgood-marshall-movie-chadwick-boseman.html
This image of Marshall at the defendant table was used in the documentary at Biography.com. This photo shows Jack Greenberg, second from left, in 1952 during the second trial of Walter Lee Irvin, third from left, who had been sentenced to death in a rape case. Thurgood Marshall is at the far right. This is not the same case as the movie but this image has some similarities to the one featured in the move. When Mr. Marshall joined the federal bench in 1961, he named Mr. Greenberg to succeed him as director-counsel of the defense fund.
"Thurgood's coming" to a theater near you.

This is an encore presentation of Thurgood Marshall on this blog.  Please take a look at my first blog post entitled, Showdown: Marshall vs. Scalia which is featured on the list of top ten blog posts in the left hand column here.

1 comment:

  1. Another article to read to understand the historical context of the making of the movie is here: http://www.courant.com/entertainment/movies/hc-marshall-film-bridgeport-attorney-1008-20171007-story.html

    The article includes an interview of the screenwriter who is an attorney from Bridgeport, Connecticut, the city where the case was tried.