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Unlikely Heroes

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0817304911
ISBN-10: 0817304916
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"I think there has been no more heroic episode in American law than the work of southern federal judges in ending racial discrimination in the South. Jack Bass has brought this recent history to life, telling us much that we had not known."
—Anthony Lewis, New York Times


"Jack Bass has written an important book, . . . The best history of the civil rights movement I've read."
—Joe Cumming Jr., The Atlanta Constitution

From the Back Cover

A vivid account of the implementation of the Brown decision in the South by southern federal judges committed to the rule of law.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 362 pages
  • Publisher: University Alabama Press (May 30, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0817304916
  • ISBN-13: 978-0817304911
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,202,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Eric V. Moye on June 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Jack Bass has written an outstanding history of an often unacknowledged but essential component of the civil rights movement. This book is the story of a group of southern judges appointed to the Court of Appeals with jurisdiction over the deep South during the 1950's and early '60's. While the Supreme Court, led by Chief Earl Warren appropriately got the headlines for their groundbreaking decision in Brown vs Board of Education, the task fell to this Court to wrestle with the meaning of "deliberate speed" and more importantly (and also more of a challenge) to actually implement this decision in their home states.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals of this time period was the greatest collection of talent ever assembled in the history of American jurisprudence. Their story is testimony to their courage, often in the face of social ostracism, threats of physical violence and all manner of disrespect.
The subjects of this work, Judges Richard Rives, John Brown, John Wisdom and Elbert Tuttle are among the most courageous men ever to don the robes and swear to uphold the U.S. Constitution. They were true to the oath they took, and in living up to that affirmation, brought the South, kicking and screaming into the 20th century.
A wonderfully researched work, easily readable for lawyers and normal people. Essential to the complete understanding of the times and the efforts undertaken by those who sought to change them.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jack Bass fittingly selects a quote from Lillian Smith's 1949 book Killers of the Dream, an excellent book which I have read twice, some 40 years apart, which depicted and explained the Southern societal structure that was defined by legal racial segregation. Smith says: "...had there been a few men in the South with enough strength...with enough integrity and energy to act out their own beliefs and with a strong belief in freedom and a clear vision of a new way of life, our people might have been swung around with their faces turned to the future." Roughly 10 to 15 years later, the men (and they were all men, hopefully inspired, in part, by a woman) did arise, and accepted the challenge that history provided. As Bass indicates, they were "unlikely" heroes, based on their background, and even their temperament. I'm not of the legal profession, and some have said that is a blessing, and although I have been dabbling in it far too long now, I found Bass' account gripping, even a "page turner."

The author's account centers on the old Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, before it was split, and when it spanned most of the deep-south states of the Old Confederacy. Smith's sought-for men arose. Bass frequently refers to them as "The Four," a key voting bloc in a Court of nine, with a Chief Judge, in his `80's, often absent. The four were Richard T. Rives, Elbert P. Tuttle, John Minor Wisdom and John R. Brown. The four received key support from at least two District Judges: Frank M. Johnson in Alabama, and J. Skelly Wright in New Orleans. (Both were later elevated to the Court of Appeals level).
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Format: Paperback
Through Unlikely Heroes, as well as Taming the Storm, his biography of Alabama federal Judge Frank Johnson, Bass brings to public light the role played by southern judges in the civil rights movement. This book truly does justice to Judges Wisdom, Rives, Tuttle, and Brown for their immense contributions to the civil rights movement. This is a great book!
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Format: Paperback
It's a very good book at the application of the Brown v. Board of Ed. decision and how it was applied after tremendous resistance (to put it mildly) from the Southern establishment. These judges were more than vigilant and diligent in helping to end de jure segregation.
It's also an excellent work on federalism (federal vs. states) and the proper role of the judiciary. Did the 5th Circuit act as a super legislature at times? Did it exceed its powers? Perhaps. What should be done when the other two branches dig in and will not correct a clear wrong? If something like segregation is morally is abhorrent, but maintained by facially neutral laws and regulations, should the courts end it or is that the role solely assigned to the legislature?
Law schools follow the tried and true formula, blah, blah, blah, Marbury v. Madison, etc., case method, same old cases that have been been used for decades. Most constitutional law professors could probably teach their classes half asleep and I'm sure many do.
I learned more about the judiciary, legal procedure and federalism that I did in 3 years of law school from this book.
The book touched upon the topic of busing and that in itself is an explosive issue as I recall growing up in the 1970's. Frankly, I'm glad I didn't have to sit on a school bus for 3 hours a day to satisfy a federally court ordered school plan.
A final note. It's an inspiring book and I'm sure the attorneys involved probably their work during this era to be their most memorable and challenging legal work in their careers.
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