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HONORING THURGOOD MARSHALL



Published: Wed, August 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



HONORING THURGOOD MARSHALL

Chicago Tribune: The U.S. Postal Service plans to honor Thurgood Marshall, the great-grandson of a slave who rose to become the first black Supreme Court justice, with a commemorative stamp. The stamp is to go on sale in January, in time for Black History Month in February.

Justice Marshall will become the 25th in the post office's Black Heritage stamp series, joining the likes of Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr., and only the ninth member of the Supreme Court to be so honored.

It is fitting that Justice Marshall's portrait will appear on millions of first-class letters, for Marshall, who died in 1993 at the age of 84, changed the face of American society. Few did as much as he did to end racial segregation and bring this country closer to the ideal of a living democracy.

'Separate but equal'

As a young lawyer for the NAACP, Marshall successfully challenged the legal doctrine of "separate but equal." Handing him a victory in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court ordered all U.S. public schools desegregated. "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," the majority concluded in that fateful decision.

But 10 years earlier Marshall scored an achievement he considered even greater: He succeeded in invalidating an all-white primary election in Texas, the first of a string of victories giving blacks the vote and making it possible for tens of thousands of blacks to be elected to public office.

After his appointment to the high court in 1967, Marshall provided constant reminders to his colleagues -- often, especially in later years, in the form of dissenting opinions -- that their pronouncements on the Constitution must be applied to the real world, not to some ideal environment in which people are genteel, children are well fed and families are supportive. "It is disgraceful for an interpretation of the Constitution to be premised upon unfounded assumptions about how people live," he once wrote.

As one who grew up under Jim Crow laws, Marshall knew the experience of soiling his pants because he couldn't use a public toilet and of being barred from a state-run school because of the color of his skin. He became the court's most persistent defender of the rights of minorities, women, criminal defendants and the poor.

Remembering Marshall

When he retired in 1991 due to ill health, Marshall was asked how he wanted to be remembered. He replied, "Thurgood Marshall, former Supreme Court justice: That he did what he could with what he had."

It sounded like a modest, though eminently practical, epitaph.

In the end, however, that's all anyone can ever aspire to.

IN TRUST WE TRUST

Los Angeles Times: Trust is a little word and a big concept that's taken a genuine pounding across America in recent months. We trusted that evil was far away, airlines were strong and airliners were safe. We trusted that skyscrapers didn't collapse, quarterly corporate reports were true, the stock market and economy were recovering and even hate had limits. We trusted that baseball was a game, Olympic judges and Little League coaches didn't cheat and adults -- even strangers and especially priests -- wouldn't hurt children.

Given such apparently contrary evidence, perhaps it should not be too surprising that we so easily find reasons to ponder distrust these days. It's amazing how important something as transparent as trust can be in our lives. And how frazzled most feel when any trust is betrayed, even the simple trust in a once-reliable car to start. Distrust throws everything into doubt. Even suspicion of betrayal corrodes the bonds that link family, town and nation.

Essential ingredient

Trust, according to Webster, is a "firm belief or confidence in the honesty, integrity, reliability, justice, etc. of another person or thing." As invisible as it is, trust, it turns out, is an essential ingredient in a successful society, especially a democracy. We trust in trust in so many ways each day.

Trust that our elected representatives will be honest and representative, if not infallible. Trust that our justice system will be, if not perfect, at least fair. Employers trust employees to work. Employees trust employers to pay. Customers trust the products they buy and sellers trust their payment promises. Trust is even printed on our money.

It takes a long while to build trust and only seconds for it to melt away. But before we get too suspicious of trusting people and things, as terrorists hope we will, let's recall some important facts. We trust that firemen and police will do heroic things in a crisis -- and they did. We trust neighbors and volunteers to help each other -- and they have.

We trust our governments to run and our way of life to survive -- and they have. A recent CNN/USA Today poll found that more people trust others today (41 percent) than two years ago (38 percent). Teachers were the most-trusted segment (84 percent) and HMO managers the least (20 percent).

Journalists

Perhaps it's presumptuous of journalists, trusted by 38 percent, to suggest this, but trust has been a historical hallmark for Americans. Who has trusted more and longer in the collective wisdom of a free, majority vote and trusted so many million strangers to join them? We've sometimes paid a price for misplaced trust, but we've always returned to trust as a behavioral girder. We will again. We trust.




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