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The Question:

Recently, I learned that Justice Hugo Black was once a member of the KKK. With that in mind, do you know why he decided to go along with the other justices in the unanimous decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case?

The Answer:

Alabama Sen. Hugo Lafayette Black was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1937. After his confirmation, Black was criticized by the public for his involvement with the Ku Klux Klan. Reportedly, Black became a member of the organization in 1923. He admitted to marching a few times and making a few speeches but didn't consider himself a Klansman, quitting three years after he joined. Eventually his experiences with the KKK were overshadowed in the short term by World War II and in the long term by his voting record.

During Black's term as associate justice, which lasted until his retirement in 1971, he was a passionate defender of civil liberties, an absolutist when it came to interpreting the First Amendment and an enthusiastic supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. He prided himself on being a supporter of minorities in America and backed that up with his decisions. With that in mind, it's really no surprise that Black supported the court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which struck down racially enforced school segregation.

Here is a link to a Web site on the topic of Hugo Black and the KKK if you want more information.

—The Editors


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