Exhibit honors Thurgood Marshall's civil rights work

Traveling show examines black life since slavery

February 10, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- In the 1950s in Detroit, whites lived in Parkside and Herman Gardens public housing, miles from downtown, and blacks lived in the Jeffries Homes and Brewster-Douglass projects near the central city.

The Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, encouraged by civil rights gains around the country, wanted to end that segregation. They called in the NAACP's general counsel, Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore native who would become a Supreme Court justice.

"What I remember most is a kind of electricity in this special place in the heart of the NAACP," Arthur Johnson, then executive secretary of the Detroit NAACP, said last week in recalling Marshall, who died in 1993 at age 85. "He was a lion."

Memories such as these were the reason Johnson, President Clinton, civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks and about 200 other people from Detroit and Washington came together last week at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington.

The occasion was the debut of "Marching Toward Justice: The History of the 14th Amendment." The exhibit of pictures and text honors Marshall, America's black experience from slavery through the 1950s, and the 14th Amendment that in 1868 gave Americans, regardless of race, full protection under the law.

The exhibit was commissioned by the Damon J. Keith Law Collection of African-American Legal History at Detroit's Wayne State University. Keith, a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, was host for the event.

The exhibit includes a larger-than-life 1956 photo of a trench-coated Marshall marching through Tuscaloosa, Ala., with Autherine Lucy after he won a court order admitting Lucy to the University of Alabama.

The exhibit will remain in Washington until Feb. 26. Then it will start a national tour, after which it will return to Wayne State.

"During some of the darkest days of Jim Crow, a single phrase whispered in African-American communities all across the South would give hope to millions -- `Thurgood is coming,' " Clinton told the crowd. "Today, at the dawn of a new century, it is up to each and every one of us to ensure that Thurgood is still coming."

Parks added, "I knew him years ago, and he was a very courageous man. I'll always admire him."

Guests at the two-hour reception included Cecilia Marshall, the justice's widow; President Irvin Reid of Wayne State; and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, an Ohio Democrat.

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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