`THURGOOD MARSHALL believed fervently in the rule of law," says Carl Rowan in a telephone interview about his new biography of the former Supreme Court justice. The author had been asked about Mr. Marshall's views of the civil-disobedience campaign headed by Martin Luther King Jr. and other activities of the black political movement in the 1950s and '60s. Marshall "deplored people like [black-power leaders] Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown; he lumped them in with the Ku Klux Klan, and he said we should p ut the whole bunch on a desert island and let them fight it out," Rowan recalls.
"As for Dr. King," Rowan says, "Thurgood was concerned that he sometimes got credit that wasn't due him. For instance, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott [organized by King in Montgomery, Ala.] didn't get blacks out of the back of buses. That situation didn't change until Thurgood got a court order" forbidding the segregated seating.
Asked about Marshall's views of race issues today, Rowan says that the justice's "last years were very difficult. He thought a lot about how Reagan's and Bush's appointees to the Supreme Court were washing away his life's work. Why, we're even seeing school segregation being reintroduced."
Marshall knew, however, that courts can do only so much - for good or ill. Rowan quoted words from the jurist's last speech, given at an award ceremony in Philadelphia's Independence Hall last July 4: "The legal system can force open doors, and, sometimes, even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me. We can run from each other, but we cannot escape each other."