Famed equal rights fighter Robert L. Carter dead at 94

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 12/26/2012, 12:42 p.m.

Even before the United States entered World War II, Carter joined the Army. To a great degree, this further militarized him in his fight against racism and discrimination.

Carter was stationed in Georgia when he encountered a white officer who told him that he "did not believe in educating niggers." Carter wrote about the encounter in his book, "A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights" (2004).

In other words, Carter continued, the officer was "not going to tolerate our putting on airs or acting uppity."

But those admonitions and warnings did not stop Carter from completing and excelling in Officer Candidate School and becoming a second lieutenant. With those bars on his shoulder, he audaciously integrated the officers' club at the base in Baton Rouge, much to the white officers' chagrin. Breaking the Jim Crow rules was Carter's approach even more so after mustering out of the service in 1944.

Things got underway for him in the legal arena almost immediately upon taking a job at the Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDEF), at the time the legal arm of the NAACP, though it later became an independent entity.

At LDEF, Carter began his association with Marshall. By 1948, he became his chief deputy. One of the important cases they worked on was Sweatt v. Painter (1950), in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, deciding that the University of Texas Law School could not deny the application of a Black student.

In the succeeding years, Carter was as successful as he was active in arguing cases on housing discrimination, the dismantling of all-white political primaries in several Southern states and tackling de facto school segregation in the North.

In 1961 came a dramatic split between Carter and Marshall over the appointment of Jack Greenberg, who had collaborated with Carter on many cases, as the person to succeed him as the director of the LDEF. Carter resigned and became the general counsel for the NAACP, which was no longer affiliated with The LDEF.

After President Richard Nixon nominated him to the federal bench for the Southern District of New York in 1972-he was strongly recommended by Sen. Jacob Javits-Carter began his long and distinguished career as a jurist.

He was the judge in the case that brought a settlement between disgruntled NBA players in their class-action antitrust lawsuit.

A few years later, in 1979, he found bias against Black and Hispanic applicants for police jobs in New York City. This decision brought about major changes in the NYPD's hiring policies and caused an increase in minority officers.

"Judge Robert L. Carter was a courageous, bold, audacious advocate for justice in the cause not only to render human and civil rights for Black people who had been legally denied such rights in America but to uplift the entire nation," said attorney Nadine C. Johnson, commissioner of the New York State Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission on Minorities. "With forthrightness and eloquence, he had divine determination in his journey and his quest to achieve these basic rights of justice and equality for all.

"Judge Carter had such strong shoulders to hold all of us up-from Thurgood Marshall to the present," Johnson continued, "and was a true, steadfast advocate for justice. He lived a great, long life truly worthy of celebration and he was active to the end with so much apparent energy."

Carter's wife, Gloria, whom he married in 1946, died in 1971. Other than his son John, he is survived by another son, David; a sister, Alma Carter Lawson; and a grandson.

There was no information about funeral or memorial services available at press time.