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Hugo L. Black (1886-1971)
Hugo L. Black (1886-1971)
Hugo L. Black was born February 27, 1886 in Clay County, Alabama. Though he sometimes referred to himself, especially on the campaign stump, as a Clay County hillbilly, he reached the pinnacle of the legal profession by serving for more than thirty-four years on the United States Supreme Court.

Black graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1906 and moved to Birmingham to practice law in 1907. He became successful in criminal defense, as a prosecutor, in labor law, personal injury, and other representations for clients. He served inthe United States Army during World War I, and attained the rank of Captain.

In 1925, Senator Oscar W. Underwood announced his retirement from politics and a number of candidates, including Hugo Black, began campaigning for his Senate seat. He campaigned vigorously in every county of Alabama and in 1926 he was elected United States Senator.

As a Senator, Black was progressive. In 1932 he easily won re-election and became a strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. He championed minimum wage laws, medical aid to the indigent, and Social Security. When the Supreme Court blocked many New Deal programs, President Roosevelt sought to increase the number of Supreme Court justices. However, in March 1937, Congress passed the Supreme Court Retirement Act which allowed justices to retire at age 70 with full pay. An aging justice soon retired and President Roosevelt named Hugo Black to the Court.

While in the Senate, Hugo Black had supported the role of the Federal Government in assuring certain basic guaranteed rights of citizens. On the Supreme Court, he again sought to protect the rights of citizens guaranteed in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He took part in important decisions involving news censorship, prayer in public schools, civil liberties, one man-one vote, and the equality of educational opportunities.

Justice Black’s was one of the unanimous votes in the Brown vs. Board of Education case. Many people in Alabama disagreed with him and criticized his action. He was socially shunned. His trips to Alabama became fewer. His law school class did not invite him to his 50th Class Reunion in 1956. Despite the estrangement with Alabama, he remained faithful to his view of the Law and the Constitution.

In later years, there was a new look at the opinions of Justice Black by Alabamians. In 1966 he was invited back for a tribute dinner in Birmingham. In 1968, he addressed the State Bar Convention.

Hugo Black died in September, 1971. He has been recognized as the intellectual leader of the Supreme Court during his 34 years of service. The nation honored him by his burial in Arlington National Cemetery. The lawyers of Alabama honor him with induction into the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame.

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