Thursday, October 2, 2008

When comes such another?

Hidden at the bottom of the New York Times's morning e-mail:

On Oct. 2, 1967, Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first black to serve on the high court.
This clicks through to the news report from 1967:
President Johnson paid an unannounced visit to the Supreme Court this morning to witness the swearing in of Thurgood Marshall, who became the first Negro to sit on the high court. Mr. Johnson took his seat in the "family section" near the bench, shortly before the Justices took their seats for the opening of the new term. The President left immediately after the five-minute ceremony. He did not attempt to congratulate Justice Marshall, who remained on the bench with the other Justices for almost an hour, as 223 lawyers were admitted to practice before the Court. Justice Marshall, the great-grandson of a slave, gained national fame as a counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He swore today to "administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich."
Thye image above (left) is of marshall as LBJ's Attorney General: the others are from the stage production and are of Laurence Fishburne.

This anniversary reminds us, in so many ways, how far we have come since then. And how far still to go (not original: see third point below).

First, there's that subtle change of vocabulary. The Times in 1967 felt free to use the term "negro", whereas today's prompt uses "black". No qualms there about those dubious hyphenations like "Afro-American".

Second, there's the nudge that LBJ was as progressive in his domestic policy as he was accursed in his Ind0-China embroilment (though, in fairness, he inherited both from the sainted JFK).

Third, last, and most significant here, it reminds Malcolm that he caught Thurgood, Laurence Fishburne's superb one-man show at the Booth Theater. This is George Stevens' racy narration, directed by Leonard Foglia, of Marshall's life, from the streets of Baltimore to a quarter-century on the Supreme Court. It's more than a play, as is witnessed by the publication of an educational guide (and it's not a kiddie's guide, either) to go with it.

Apart from being a cathartic experience, Malcolm noted this was the most mixed audience he had seen in any theatre/theater ... no, not "for a long while" ... ever. It denied one of the implications of Arthur Miller's title, A View from the Bridge: this was no privileged audience who had ridden from Long Island or Connecticut, into Manhattan, passing over the heads of the folk living below the Brooklyn or Triborough bridges. And rarely has he shared a mood of such involvement. As Charles Isherwood's review properly began:
It’s a safe bet that Thurgood is the only play on Broadway at which the announcement of a famous legal verdict is greeted by a burst of heartfelt applause.
For once the fictive drama was reflecting the true man: it was making a difference. Just as Marshall had done. Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites