Civil rights attorney Jack Greenberg, a protege of and successor to Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the last lawyer to have argued Brown v. Board of Education, has died. He worked with Dr. Martin Luther King at the Southern Christian Leadership Council and was a staunch opponent of the death penalty. He was 91 years old.
According to the Washington Post, Greenberg joined the LDF in 1949, immediately after graduating from Columbia Law School. He became one of Marshall’s closest advisors there, helping argue landmark civil rights cases such as 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which (legally) abolished “separate but equal” racially segregated public schools.
The Post reports that when Marshall left the LDF 1961 for a federal judgeship, he hand-picked Mr. Greenberg as director-counsel of the fund, where Greenberg spent 23 years at its helm. (The LDF had become a separate entity from the NAACP in 1957.)
Predictably, Greenberg caught some flack for being white, but Marshall had none of that.
“As those who are fighting discrimination,” he said, “we cannot afford to practice it.” Greenberg, Time magazine quoted Marshall as saying, was “about as Negro as a white man can get.”
Of going to work for Marshall, Greenberg said: “The question of race never really entered into it. It was a question of human liberty. It was the principles that were involved.”
In addition to Brown, Greenberg helped to litigate Meredith v. Fair, which resulted in James Meredith’s 1962 integration of the University of Mississippi. The Post reports that in 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference enlisted the fund to handle discrimination cases, writing:
On March 16, 1965, LDF lawyers including Mr. Greenberg filed a proposed plan for a second voting rights march from Selma, Ala., to the state capital of Montgomery after authorities earlier that month had attacked civil rights protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Their plan for the five-day march — detailing the precise route to be followed, the food, first aid and other services to be provided, and at what point songs would be sung — was approved by a federal judge, establishing their right to hold the demonstration without disruption.
After the civil rights era, Greenberg expanded his legal work to racial discrimination in employment and the death penalty, arguing landmark cases such as Furman v. Georgia, a 1972 Supreme Court case that drew attention to what LDF lawyers said in part was the capricious application of the death penalty, including an inherent racial bias.
After retiring from the LDF, Greenberg became vice dean of Columbia Law School and served as dean of the undergraduate Columbia College from 1989 to 1993.
His books included Race Relations and American Law (1959); Crusaders in the Courts (1994); and Brown v. Board of Education: Witness to a Landmark Decision (2004).
In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Greenberg a Presidential Citizens Medal.
Greenberg died at his home in Manhattan. He had Parkinson’s disease, but his wife, Deborah Cole, said that that was not the cause.
He is survived by his wife; three children from his first marriage, Sarah Greenberg and Ezra Greenberg, both of Manhattan, and David Greenberg of Oceanside, Ore.; two stepchildren he adopted, Suzanne Greenberg of Manhattan and William Cole of Sitges, Spain; a brother, Daniel Greenberg of Washington; and five grandchildren. A son from his first marriage, Josiah Greenberg, died in 2011.
SOURCE: The Washington Post | IMAGE: Getty