NAACP'S First Success At the Supreme Court
309 U.S. 227 (1940)
Argued Jan. 4, 1940
Decided Feb. 12, 1940
Thurgood Marshall and
his Mentor Charles Hamilton Champion the Rights of the Common Man
Relative to Cruel And Unusual Punishment
The first case
successfully defended at the Supreme Court level by the NAACP was
Chambers versus Florida. The case centered around the robbery
and murder of an elderly white man, Mr. Robert Darsey .
He was murdered and robbed around 9:00 p.m. May 13, 1933 in Pomona
Florida. Pomona is a small town in Broward County about twelve
miles from Fort Lauderdale, which is the County seat.
Within the next 24
hours about forty Negroes were arrested. The first of
which was Charlie Davis. His arrest was soon followed by
the arrest of Williamson, Chambers, and Woodward (other petitioners
in the case). All of these arrests were done without a
warrant. These men were held in the Broward County Jail at
Fort Lauderdale (least we forget some of the chads somebody played
around with in the 2000 presidential election, but that is another
On Sunday, May 15, several of
these men were taken to Miami under the pretext of protecting
them. They were returned to Broward County the next day. They
still had not confessed. They were questioned repeatedly during the course of a week, without
counsel or contact with their families. No formal charges had
been brought against any of these men. Various confessions
were unacceptable to the State's Attorney and they were repeatedly
questioned until finally something acceptable was in writing. These men were continually
questioned by various people lead by white
convict guard J. T. Williams for a week.
Finally one of the men to break
after repeated questioning and some all night vigils. On Monday, May 21, around 2:30
a.m. Woodward broke and said he was guilty of the crime. Williamson was the next to plead
guilty. Chambers and Davis still asserted their
innocence. The sheriff later told the court appointed attorney
Davis wanted to change his plea to guilty. Chambers was
then convicted at his trail based on the confessions of the others
and the testimony of law enforcement officers. All four men were
sentenced to death.
During the entire process from their
arrest, the men were never totally removed from the
observation, influence, custody and control of the officers of Broward County. This
action would be critical to the challenge brought forth on their
behalf by the NAACP.
critical question presented by the petition for certiorari, granted
in forma pauperis, before the United States Supreme court was
whether proceedings in which confessions were taken and utilized for
culminated in sentences of death upon four young negro men in the
State of Florida, failed to afford the safeguard of that due process
of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. As
the decision was reversed, Justice Hugo Black stated the following
in his opinion: "...Unknown to the trial judge, the confessions
on which the judgments and sentences of death were based were not
voluntary and had been obtained by coercion and duress, the State
Supreme Court granted leave to present a petition for writ of error
coram nobis to the Broward County Circuit Court, 111 Fla. 707, 152
So. 437. The Circuit Court denied the petition without trial of the
issues raised by it and the State Supreme Court reversed and ordered
the issues submitted to a jury. 117 Fla. 642, 158 So. 153.
Upon a verdict adverse to petitioners,
the Circuit Court reaffirmed the original judgments and sentences.
Again the State Supreme Court reversed, holding that the issue of
force, fear of personal violence and duress had been properly
submitted to the jury, but the issue raised by the assignment of
error alleging that the confessions and pleas "were not, in
fact, freely and voluntarily made" had not been clearly
submitted to the jury. 123 Fla. 734, 737, 167 So. 697, 700. A change
of venue, to Palm Beach County, was granted, a jury again found
against petitioners, and the Broward Circuit Court once more
reaffirmed the judgments and sentences of death. The Supreme Court
of Florida, one judge dissenting, affirmed. 136 Fla. 568, 187 So.
156. While the petition thus seeks review of the judgments and
sentences of death rendered in the Broward Circuit Court and
reaffirmed in the Palm Beach Circuit Court, the evidence before us
consists solely of the transcript of proceedings (on writ of error
coram nobis) in Palm Beach County Court wherein the circumstances
surrounding the obtaining of petitioners' alleged confessions were
passed on by a jury..."
Three major factors
came from this case:
murder obtained in the state courts by use of coerced confessions
are void under the clue process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- The Court is not
concluded by the finding of a jury that a confession by one
convicted in a state court of murder was voluntary, but determines
that question for itself based on the evidence.
Confessions of murder
procured by repeated inquisitions of prisoners without friends or
counselors present, and under circumstances calculated to inspire
terror, held compulsory are not acceptable.
To learn more about the
court case, visit the following sites:
The Injustice Line: http://www.injusticeline.com/chambers.html
Citizen Legal Reference Materials:
Cornell University Law Search: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/
United States Supreme Court Plus - This
site that charges a fee for some of it's services: http://www.usscplus.com/
Tweety is a 17 years old
teen staff writer for FAVOC Magazine.
First African American On The United States Supreme Court
On July 2, 1908, a child named Throughgood
Marshall was born in Baltimore Maryland to William Canfield and Norma Arica
Marshall. He was the named for his parental grandfather (a
former slave named Marshall) who took the first name when he entered
the United States Army during the Civil War.
Marshall is said to
have stated that by the second grade he had shortened his first
name to Thurgood. His mother worked in the segregated schools of
Baltimore as a teacher after being among their first black graduates
from Columbia's Teachers College in New York. His father worked
in the railroad industry and then as chief steward of the exclusive
all-white Gibson Island Club.
Thurgood graduated from Frederick Douglass
High School. He entered the Lincoln University in Chester,
Pennsylvania to study dentistry. His older brother, William
Aubrey (born in 1905) went to Lincoln University as well.
He acquired a medical degree and was a noted chest surgeon
and specialist in the illness tuberculosis. Thurgood Marshall
acquired a B. S. from Lincoln University in 1930. He acquired
his J.D. from Howard University in Washington D. C. in 1933, graduating magna cum laude.
During his senior
year, Marshall married Vivian Burey (Buster) in September,
1929. She attended the University of Pennsylvania. After
graduation, he immediately set up a law practice in the Baltimore, Maryland area with
the assistance and well wishes of his family. This
was also around the time his love for public speaking and the law were
taking hold. This union would last until her death some
twenty-five years later. Buster died of cancer in
February, 1955. Later that year, he married Cecelia (Cissy)
Suyat. They had two sons. Thurgood, Jr. who works in
politics and John William who works in law enforcement.
Marshall joined the NAACP in 1936. He served as the
organizations chief counsel from 1938-1961. He and his
mentor, Charles Hamilton won the
first of many cases before the Court in 1940. This case was Chambers versus Florida (see
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy
appointed Marshall to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. He
received his next two appointments under President Lyndon B.
Johnson. Those appointments were Solicitor General and U. S.
Supreme Court Justice.
Marshall succeeded Tom C. Clark on the
Supreme Court after he
resigned June 1967. Clark had been appointed by Harry Truman in
1949. Thurgood received is nomination on June 13, 1967 and was
sworn in on August 27 of the same year. Ironically, he was
succeeded by Clarence Thomas.
Marshall served on the Unites States Supreme
Court for 24 years. After leaving
the court on January 24, 1993, he died several years later of heart
failure at Bethesda Navel Medical Center, at the age of 84. He
is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County,
Virginia. His grave is in section 5 near those of several other
lifetime, Marshall accomplished many positive things that assisted
in his quest for equality and freedom. He was a champion
for the causes of minorities and the poor. His legacy will
endure for generations to come.
Pratt Street, outside the Edward A. Garmatz Federal Building and U.S.
Courthouse, noted sculptor Reuben Kramer's interpretation of this
civil rights legend stands.
Thurgood Marshall is probably best known for his involvement
in the Brown Desegregation Cases of the mid fifties. In Brown v.
The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, School Desegregation was
deemed unequal and unconstitutional. He had a 32 of 35
winning record in front of the Supreme Court at the time of his
FBI Files on Marshall: http://foia.fbi.gov/marshall.htm
Arlington National Cemetary http://www.arlingtoncemetery.com/tmarsh.htm
National Portrait Gallery: http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/harmon/marsharm.htm
Home To Harlem: http://www.hometoharlem.com/Harlem/hthcult.nsf/notables/thurgoodmarshall
Thurgood Marshall Fund: http://www.thurgoodmarshallfund.org
Brown v. Board of Education: http://brownvboard.org/
many books available that cover the life of Thurgood
Marshall. Check with your favorite bookstore.
Chaybri is a 17 years old
for FAVOC Magazine.
** Photo at the top is
from the Library of Congress Archives.
observed, at his retirement dinner in 1991, that he wanted to be
remembered simply as a man who had done "what he
could with what he had."
Justice Thurgood Marshall
there was any history...