Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Cases Leading to Brown

BOND: Well, let's go back to the Brown case. So the Supreme Court consolidates these cases -- ?

HILL: All right. Now the cases were argued. The Supreme Court, they couldn't decide what they wanted to do, and according to later information that we didn't know at that time, we thought that in the Texas law case – the names have jumped from my mind –

BOND: Sure.

HILL: -- but anyway the Texas law case, [Fred M.] Vinson, who was Chief Justice for the United States at the time, he wrote the opinion, and he went right down the line on our brief as to what would constitute a first-class law school. See, down in Texas they had opened up a one-room school and had one teacher and one pupil. Well, of course obviously, that was a sham, and with -- it was the Sweatt [v. Painter] case.

BOND: Heman Sweatt, yeah.

HILL: And so when that happened then we decided now, finally the court is coming 'round our way, so that's when we -- the [NAACP] convention -- decided to challenge segregation per se. As a matter of fact we, I didn't get to the convention that year because Martin and I were trying to the daggone case down in Hillside, in Durham, North Carolina.

BOND: So the NAACP Convention decides to challenge segregation per se – the court has consolidated all these cases by then?

HILL: Well, no. See, NAACP decided to consolidate, to go, per se – that's when we filed the suit in Clarendon County.

BOND: All right. Well, let me take you back to that. Was there a debate? I know you said you weren't at the convention, but there must have been some debate about whether we should do this, let's not do this -- do you remember arguments about it?

HILL: Well, I don't recall. See, I was not at the convention and I don't remember any serious objections. And now, there was some question raised. I mean, for example, after we decided. I know we had a meeting here in Washington and – I'm talking about just lawyers now – and I, at that time I advocated, "Let's challenge housing rather than schools." Because we had the question of location -- I mean, local schools, neighborhood schools were established. And I figured all we had to do now was challenge the housing, and kids would just go to schools where they lived. But somebody raised the question about what -- an experiment that was going on in Chicago. Trumbull Park, you remember?

BOND: Oh sure. Big riots.

HILL: -- riots and things. Create all that disorder. They said we wouldn't have those things if we went for the schools. So we agreed to that. Now later we had some discussion about taking on intra-state but that's another question. Let's just stick with Brown.

BOND: Yeah. So they consolidate the cases, and they argued them twice, didn't they?

HILL: They, we argued the cases, and Vinson -- I mean, well, Vinson didn't want to -- there was debate among the Chief Justices, they didn't want to have a split decision, and I don't think they wanted to hold precedent, but, on the other hand, they didn't want to overrule. Because as a matter of fact, apparently there was more sentiment not to overrule precedent than there was to overrule it. So [Judge Felix] Frankfurter was supposed to have suggested that all these historical questions, you know, that they gave us the answer, and ask, "What was they thinking of the Congress at the time that they passed the 14th amendment?" Because at the time they passed the 14th Amendment, you know, they set up a segregated school in the District of Columbia. All right, they gave us all these questions and we've assembled a lot of these historians, and Woodward was the chief historian at the time.

BOND: C. Vann Woodward, yeah.

HILL: We had him [inaudible]. In the meantime – I don't know how the order of this, but Bob and Davis, you know – there were a couple of Davises at the time, one of them was a psychologist. I'm trying to think, what was his first name?

BOND: I don't recall.

HILL: Yeah, but anyway, they got together for the psychological information and then they got -- they got --

BOND: Kenneth Clark?

HILL: Ken, Kenneth Clark. And Kenneth came up with his doll. And so when they gave us all this stuff, and sent us back for reargument, it came up the next time challenging that, and then we also prepared for the trials by presenting the doll evidence.

BOND: Yes, and then the decision finally comes?

HILL: All right, the decision finally came in 1954.

BOND: Right.

HILL: But instead of issuing this mandate like they normally would have done when they declared an act unconstitutional, they held the case under advisement and held it over, come back -- ordered us to come back for argument as to the remedy. And that was when we came up with -- when Frankfurter came up with the idea of deliberate speed. All deliberate speed.

BOND: Now, what remedy did you argue for?

HILL: What you mean? What remedy? Well, we were arguing for immediate, or, at the most, five years.

BOND: Now so when they say "all deliberate speed," what did you think that meant, or would mean, to the plaintiffs in these cases?

HILL: Well, as I said we felt that the maximum would be for five years. I remember discussing the matter with one of the attorneys from the South -- Jim Nabrit and I were standing together and we were talking to one of the attorneys from South Carolina, and we were saying that we ought to go for five years. That'd be time enough to get it adjusted, and, oh, he thought that was terrible, so we said "What do you -- ? What was your idea? What do you think the time ought to be?" He said "2020."

BOND: 2020?

HILL: Yeah.

BOND: You mean twenty years?

HILL: 2020 -- he meant twenty years from now. That was his idea.

BOND: Oh, boy.

HILL: He was nearer right than we were.

BOND: Yes, indeed. But, at the time -- at the time, did you think it could be worked out in five years?

HILL: Oh, we didn't see any reason why it couldn't be. As a matter of fact, you see, in '39, you know, we filed suit in Norfolk under the Alston case. We got that judgment in our favor. We worked out a settlement with them. With the city, the community, and gave them three years to equalize the salaries, and that worked out fine.