Robert L. Carter, Desegregation Architect

“In the United States, we make progress in two or three steps, then we step back, and blacks are more militant now and will not accept second-class citizenship as before.” – Robert L. Carter.

Robert Lee Carter

Robert Lee Carter

The above quote was given to the New York Times in 2004 by one of America’s leading legal minds, practicing law in primarily human rights, civil rights an First Amendment cases. Robert L. Carter was a graduate from Columbia Law School, a federal judge, he presided over the merger of the National and American Basketball Leagues in the 1970’s, instrumental in integrating the New York City police force, became general counsel for the NAACP and argued or co-argued before the United States Supreme Court in 21 cases. Carter presented part of the oral arguments in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education.

Robert Lee Carter was born in Caryville, in the Florida Panhandle, on March 17, 1917, the youngest of nine children. His family moved to New Jersey when he was 6 weeks old, and his father, Robert L. Carter, died when he was a year old. His mother, Annie Martin Carter, took in laundry for white people for 25 years.

Mr. Carter recalled experiencing racial discrimination as a 16-year-old in East Orange, N.J. The high school he attended allowed black students to use its pool only on Fridays, after classes were over. After he read in the newspaper that the State Supreme Court had outlawed such restrictions, he entered the pool with white students and stood up to a teacher’s threat to have him expelled from school. It was his first taste of activism, he said.

He attended two predominantly black universities: Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he enrolled at 16, and Howard University School of Law in Washington. He then went to Columbia University as a graduate student and wrote his master’s thesis on the First Amendment. He used parts of the thesis in preparing for the school segregation cases in the 1950s.

Mr. Carter joined the Army a few months before the United States entered World War II. His military experience made a militant of him, he said, starting with the day a white captain welcomed Mr. Carter’s unit of the Army Air Corps at Augusta, Ga. The captain, Mr. Carter said in his memoir, “wanted to inform us right away that he did not believe in educating niggers.”

One of Carter’s most important cases after the Brown case, was NAACP v. Alabama (1958). To stop the NAACP from helping black plaintiffs, the State of Alabama wanted to revoke the non-profit status of the NAACP in the state because it was not headquartered in Alabama and to be given the membership list of the NAACP and make it public. Carter was a First Amendment scholar, successfully winning his argument at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Carter’s later years he wrote extensively about discrimination cases in the United States and about his longtime friends, Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston. His biography can be viewed online: Biography Directory of Federal Judges. Carter also co-founded the NCBL (the National Conference of Black Lawyers) in 1968.

Robert L. Carter passed away in a New York City hospital on January 3, 2012 from complications of a stroke.

[socialpoll id=”2268560″]

sources: NY Times Obituary Jan 2012 & others
The lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. From left, Louis L. Redding, Robert L. Carter, Oliver W. Hill, Thurgood Marshall and Spottswood W. Robinson III.; source-AP

The lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. From left, Louis L. Redding, Robert L. Carter, Oliver W. Hill, Thurgood Marshall and Spottswood W. Robinson III.; source-AP



Brown v. Board of Ed

5 Questions – Brown v. Board of Ed

Leaderboard: Brown v. Board of Ed

maximum of 5 points
Pos. Name Entered on Points Result
Table is loading
No data available






  1. Robert Carter is one of those “unsung” heroes. He worked tirelessly and deserves a place in history second to none.

  2. Pingback: Brown v. Board Education; Not Just Schools

  3. Pingback: Thurgood & the Team

  4. Pingback: Brown v. Board of Ed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *