SIMPLE JUSTICE Pages x-xi
From the start, the
Only lately, on the eve of the nation’s bicentennial of
independence, has the dazzle of
Material values in themselves, in short, can neither explain nor sustain the American achievement: the nation must exploit its inner resources as well if it is to linger long at the center of the global stage. This is a book about the resurrection of those inner resources.
Of the ideals that animated the American nation at its beginning, none was more radiant or honored than the inherent equality of mankind. There was dignity in all human flesh, Americans proclaimed, and all must have their chance to strive and to excel. All men were to be protected alike from the threat of rapacious neighbors and from the prying or coercive state. If it is a sin to aspire to conduct of a higher order than one may at the moment be capable of, then Americans surely sinned in professing that all men are created equal – and then acting otherwise. Nor did time close the gap between that profession and the widespread practice of racism in the land. The nation prospered mightily nonetheless, and few were willing to raise their voices and suggest that what might once have been forgiven as the excesses of a buoyant national youth had widened into systematic and undiminishing cruelty.
SIMPLE JUSTICE Pages x-xi
Some protested, to be sure. But no political leader risked
all of his power and no sector of the nation’s governmental apparatus was
fully applied against this grave injustice – until the Supreme Court of the
It is to these insulated nine men, then, that the nation has increasingly brought its most vexing social and political problems. They come in the guise of private disputes between only the litigating parties, but everybody understands that this is a legal fiction and merely a convenient political device. American society thus reduces its most troubling controversies to the scope – and translates them into the language – of a lawsuit. In no other way has the nation contrived to frame these problems for a definitive judgment that applies to a vast land, a varied people, a whole age.
What follows is a history of one such lawsuit (or, to be
more technically accurate, five cases raising the same question and
consolidated under a single title). Yet this book has not been conceived as a
study of law and its permutations. It has been designed to suggest how law
and men interact, how social forces of the past collide with those of the
present, and how the men selected as
This is a long book because of the nature and subject of
the lawsuit with which it deals. Probably no case ever to come before the
nation’s highest tribunal affected more directly the minds, hearts, and daily
lives of so many Americans. Already, just two decades later, scholars have
assigned the cases known collectively as Brown
v. Board of Education of Topeka a high place in the literature of
liberty. The decision marked the turning point in
Many unheralded people persevering in widespread communities over long, hard decades contributed to what the Supreme Court decided on the seventeenth day of May 1954. This is, in large part, their story. In a larger sense, it is a chapter in the biography of a nation that has begun to understand that history may measure its ultimate worth not by the lilt of its slogans or the might of its arsenals or its troyweights of gold, but by how evenhandedly it has dealt with all of its citizens and how consistently it has denied dignity to none.