"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Charles L Black

 "If a whole race of people finds itself confined within a system which is set up and continued for the very purpose of keeping it in an inferior station, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether such a race is being treated 'equally,' I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers — that of laughter."

Charles Lund Black, Jr. was born September 22, 1915 in Austin, Texas, the son of a prominent attorney. He graduated from high school at age 16 and attended the University of Texas, earning a bachelor's degree in Greek and a master's degree in English. The studied Old and Middle English at Yale before earning an LLB from the Yale Law School in 1943.

Black served as a teacher in the Army Air Corps and worked a year in private practice before joining the faculty of the Columbia University School of Law. While there he worked with Thurgood Marshall writing legal briefs for Brown v Board of Education and did other civil rights work throughout the south. In 1956 he became the first Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale, and in 1986 returned to Columbia as an adjunct professor when his wife, Barbara Aronson Black, was named dean of the law school. He was known as a leading scholar in constitutional law, using a structural analysis of the language and logic of the entire document
"He was my hero. He made so many of the great moral issues of the twentieth century seem clear in retrospect, although they were quite controversial at the time. He had the moral courage to go against his race, his class, his social circle." Akhil Amar, former student and current Yale constitutional law professor
Black's interest in human rights was awakened in 1931 when a performance by jazz great Louis Armstrong at the Driskill Hotel in Austin led him to question the cultural norms of racism and segregation. He was a vehement opponent of capital punishment, and his 1974 book Capital Punishment: The Inevitability of Caprice and Mistake argues against its use. He wrote over twenty books dealing with law, including Law of Admiralty (1957, with Grant Gilmore), widely-used as a practical reference to maintain consistent maritime law around the world, and Impeachment: A Handbook, published in 1974 during the Watergate hearings.

Black had many interests and talents outside the law. He began writing poetry at the age of 40, publishing three books of verse. A musician, he played the trumpet and harmonica, and narrated a segment on Louis Armstrong in Ken Burn's Jazz documentary. In 1971 he began hosting a Louis Armstrong evening at Yale Law School on the anniversary of Armstrong's death, playing 78 RPM records from the 1920's and 30's. He was also a sculptor and painter, and acted in Yale theater productions, including starring as Cicero in Julius Caesar. He died in New York City on May 5, 2001 at the age of 85.
"When you let it be known that you're against racism, you immediately meet the nicest people. The same is true of capital punishment."

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