‘A Lion of the Law’ Justice Thurgood Marshall honored by ASALH, ACLU

BY LAURA MULROONEY, Neighborhood News Bureau

ST PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) held the Speakers for Justice Seminar last Sat., Jan. 23 honoring Justice Thurgood Marshall at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum.

Thurgood Marshall is well known for his civil rights activities; however, his jurisprudential style tends to be overlooked.

Master of Ceremonies Attorney Jacqueline Hubbard, president of the St. Petersburg Chapter of ASALH gave the audience a brief yet thorough history of Justice Marshall’s academic, civil rights and legal accomplishments.

According to Hubbard, one of Marshall’s most notable accomplishments was his instrumental hand in developing the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund in 1940, which fights for racial justice through litigation, advocacy and public education. Hubbard also highlighted his victory in Brown vs. Board of Education ending legal segregation in public schools.

Imam Askia Muhammad introduced Civil Rights Attorney Delano Stewart, the first African- American assistant public defender in Hillsborough County. Stewart, who started working as an attorney more than 50 years ago, is known for his candidness in the courtroom.

“It doesn’t matter if a man likes or loathes you, if he respects you, you cannot discern the difference,” Muhammad quoted Stewart.

Stewart known as the “shield for the oppressed” spoke passionately about civil rights focusing on a theme of respect. His powerful anecdotes triggered a vast range of reactions from laughter, applause in agreement and silence of solemnity as he rapped on the podium to emphasize his points.

ACLU Attorney Adam Tebrugge spoke of Justice Marshall’s efforts to discredit the death penalty. Marshall believed that the inconsistent death penalty convictions violated the Eighth Amendment. For some 20 years, Marshall traveled throughout the South defending death penalty cases earning Marshall his reputation.

Tebrugge’s acknowledgement of Marshall’s efforts came 10 days after eight Supreme Court Justices ruled in favor of striking down Florida’s death penalty practices.

Florida previously allowed the judge, not the jury, to hand down a defendant’s sentence, a violation of a defendant’s constitutional right to have a trial by jury. The debate that is sure to follow this decision could render all inmates on death row eligible for re-sentencing.

“We have a historic opportunity at this moment in time to reach out to our elected representatives and to tell them that we here in the state of Florida do not need the death penalty and that we cannot afford the death penalty,” said Tebrugge.

The Honorable Charles Williams, Chief Judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit focused on Marshall as a person and his gregarious nature. Marshall’s ability to be fluid in different societies and knowing when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive advanced his position in the Civil Rights Movement.

“He is the least known major civil rights figure in America and I think he has gotten the least credit,” said Judge Williams.

Dr. Gilbert King, author of “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America,” concluded the seminar.

King will be the guest speaker at ASLAH’s annual Black History Celebration event Feb.12 at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

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