Thurgood Marshall's friend, Robert L. Carter, claims he was the real hero of Brown

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[Robert L. Carter's memoir] is dedicated not so much to challenging the great-man theory of history as it is to arguing that history canonized the wrong man.

Instead of fixating on Marshall, Carter contends that historical accounts should highlight his own legal exploits. In these pages Marshall emerges as a puppet, with Carter pulling the strings and providing the voice. By his lights, Carter delivered black emancipation through such legal victories as Brown v. Board of Education, and he should not be forced to share the spotlight with anybody. "Blacks were now equal to whites under law and did not have to rely on the goodwill of some white individual to reach that status," Carter writes. "It was theirs by right. My vision and creative legal skills had produced these landmark race relations gains, and Thurgood had received all the credit without any complaint by me." But by negating Marshall's influence, Carter undermines his own considerable achievements. His account of Marshall's ineffectuality clashes with the recollections of many civil rights lawyers, including those previously written by Carter himself. Worse, Carter's efforts to label Brown a black-owned historical artifact constitute a particularly vulgar form of identity politics. With A Matter of Law, Carter has appended a troubling coda to an otherwise honorable career.

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