Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Personal Connection to Brown

BOND: Mr. Hill, thank you for being here with us today.

HILL: Well, my pleasure.

BOND: I want to start with the Brown case. How did you get involved in that case?

HILL: Well, Spottswood Robinson and Martin [A. Martin], that was our firm – you know, Hill, Martin, and Robinson in those days – and we were sitting back in the library working on a motion for further relief in a case known as Corbin v. Pulaski. And it was up in Pulaski, in the western part of the state. And the telephone rang about five o'clock in the afternoon, and I was nearest to the phone so I reached over and got it and Barbara Johns is on the other end, saying that they had gone out on strike, and she described what had happened that day, and I congratulated her and told her that was a fine thing they had done and now that they had made their point to go on back to school. And she said, "No, they wanted to make a real point. They wanted to stay out, and they wanted us to come up and represent them." And I said, "Well you know, we just filed a suit down in Clarendon County, South Carolina, and we don't need but one suit to prove a point. Challenging segregation per se. And -- anyway, she was so persistent, so I said, "All right, we're going to Christiansburg Wednesday morning, and we'll leave a little early and stop by church, and you be at Rev. Griffin's church, and we'll stop by and talk about it." So that's the way we got started.

BOND: Even though the Clarendon case you thought was a stronger case?

HILL: No. It's just first. I mean, they had -- see, they had got ahead of us on the issue. You had a – I forget the man's name, the preacher down there – but anyway, the suit had been filed. We all participated in it. And we were awaiting trial. That was all. We just nobody had thought about filing a suit at that time against challenging segregation per se. We still had a whole lot of suits pending which we were out to try under the separate but equal doctrine.

BOND: So you went, in these cases, from trying to make separate equal, to trying to do away with separate. Was that considered a big jump?

HILL: Well, no. Well, see, here was the situation. You know about the young man, [Charles] Garland, giving NAACP a large sum of money?

BOND: Right.

HILL: -- to fight segregation. Charlie had one of his classmates – I forget his name right this second – to make a study and recommend the best use for it. He made a study and came back, suggesting that we challenge the education, and that we file suits all over the South simultaneously. Well, Charlie said that was -- would look more like a stunt than something serious, plus, we didn't have the manpower to do it anyway. Now, this was all in the early '30s, about the.time we first entered law school – when I say we, I'm talking about Thurgood and me. And -- but anyway, to make a long story short, Charlie suggested that what we ought to do is challenge the "separate but equal" at its weakest point, and at that is at the inequality. Everything was separate but nothing was equal. And that was the reason for doing that. Charlie reasoned that to challenge segregation per se at that time would be like batting your head up against a stone wall. And best proof of it is that twenty-four years later – I'm talking from time we entered law school until we got the decision – twenty-four years later we're still batting our heads against a stone wall, because they came up with massive resistance. So you know what would have happened if we had filed suit back in 1930.

BOND: But by the time the Prince Edward County suit came along, and the Clarendon County suit came along, you were ready to challenge segregation head on?

HILL: Well, no. We challenged segregation head on in the suits. See, we filed -- the other suits were all filed charging inequality on the 14th Amendment. But the Clarendon County case was filed in sort of a dual capacity. Thurgood was a little uneasy about it, but Judge Waring recognized it as being a challenge of the constitutionality of the statute, and he convened the three-judge court. And that's the way it got started.