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Fraser Smith's Essay: December 13, 2012
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December 13, 2012
Baltimore lawyer, political strategist and historian Larry Gibson speaks tonight at the Pratt library about the making of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. WYPR’s Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith previews the book in his weekly essay.
Thurgood Marshall was a good listener – a surprise to Larry Gibson, the biographer of Marshall’s formative years. A surprise to Gibson and others probably because one of Marshall’s other attributes got more attention.
He was a raconteur, a story teller. He loved language – and used it strategically to make points and win support. And there was something of a rule: never let the facts get in the way.
It could have been a problem for someone driven to get the Marshall story right. A story in his own right, Gibson had been annoyued for years by mistakes he saw in other books about Marshall.
In his own work, he discovered Marshall, the over-achiever, the champion debater and scholar who did well in school. His parents and the village of elders who were watching expected it.
Many of Marshall’s personal characteristics can be traced back to a surprisingly large village of family and family friends. Within five blocks of his house there were not only his parents but both grandmothers, one of his grandfathers, nine aunts and uncles.
Gibson talked to many of these Marshall mentors. He interviewed them before he knew he would write a book about Baltimore-born Marshall. A man who has kept everything he’s ever done in life, he amassed a trove of original source material. He came to think of his book as a book about Maryland as well as Marshall – it’s geography, its history, its racial attitudes.
Without his penchant for research and meticulous archiving, a treasure trove of black history would not exist.
Gibson’s relationship with Marshall in Baltimore started after a sculptor, late Reuben Kramer, installed his majestic Marshall figure outside the courthouse on Pratt Street – facing the courthouse. Relationship started with statue: wanted in Lombard Street.
Kramer wanted his Marshall – an image of strength for the ages – facing the court where the justice had sought justice. Gibson wanted it facing the people.
And now his story of how the man and the statue came to be is also ready for the people.
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