Judge Robert Carter, An 'Architect Of Desegregation,' Has Died

Jan 4, 2012

Robert Carter, who was a key member of the legal team that convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw segregated public schools in 1954's landmark Brown v. the Board of Education decision, died Tuesday. He was 94.

According to The New York Times, "the cause was complications of a stroke, said his son John W. Carter, a justice of the New York Supreme Court in the Bronx."

As The Associated Press writes, Carter "was a member of the legal team led by Thurgood Marshall that turned to the courts to battle discrimination in the 1940s and 1950s."

BET.com adds that "in addition to Brown, Carter was also involved in seminal civil rights cases such as Sweatt v. Painter; over the course of his career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, he won 21 out of 22 cases before the Supreme Court."

In 2004, the Times wrote of Carter that:

"In the early 1940's, when he was a second lieutenant in the Army Air Forces, racist confrontations on Southern military bases steered his career path. 'I was looking for someplace to use my talents to fight discrimination,' says the judge, who received a law degree from Howard University and a master's in law from Columbia.

"He joined the N.A.A.C.P. in 1944 as the chief assistant to Thurgood Marshall, the organization's top counsel. In Simple Justice, a history of Brown by Richard Kluger, Judge Carter is characterized by one associate as 'the keel' and Mr. Marshall as 'the wind' in the desegregation struggle."

ScotusBlog wrote last year of Carter's doubt about whether the team would win the Brown case — but his determination to go ahead.

"I thought there was a possibility we would lose," he said. "There were a number of people, of course, who thought 'oh, no, you're going too far, you're going to be set back.' But I knew we weren't going to get beyond the status quo where we were and I was prepared for that. And I was prepared for victory, too."

Carter, the AP says, "was nominated for the federal judiciary [by President Nixon] in 1972. His tenure there included oversight of the merger between the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.