Hugo La Fayette Black

1886-1971
Lawyer, Statesman, Jurist

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Appointed Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1937, Hugo L. Black became America's foremost defender of the First Amendment. Black asserted that the First Amendment guarantees were absolute, saying, "I am for the First Amendment from the first word to the last. I believe it means what it says, and it says that government shall not abridge freedom of the press or speech. It shall let anybody talk."

As the first Supreme Court appointee chosen by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Black found himself the lone liberal voice in a staunchly conservative court. Through a procession of dissenting opinions he soon established his reputation as a defender of individual rights. By the time he left the court, just prior to his 1971 death, he was noted for his defense of civil liberties and his leadership of the activists on the Court.

Black was born on a farm in Harlan in Clay County, Alabama. He received his law degree from the University of Alabama when he was only twenty years old. Beginning in 1907 he practiced law in Birmingham and held local offices before being sent to the US Senate in 1927. As a young attorney he earned a reputation for his defense of African Americans and for the large amount of damages he won for mine workers who were injured on the job. Following the election of Roosevelt in 1932, Black became an ardent supporter of New Deal programs. He investigated merchant marine subsidies and lobbies. He sponsored the Wage and Hour Bill in 1937.

Nationally His appointment to the Supreme Court was greeted by intense opposition because of his previous membership in the Ku Klux Klan. He had joined the Klan for reasons of political expediency in 1923. With unwavering backing from the White House, his appointment was pushed through a balky Senate by a vote of 63-16. Black was Alabama's only US Supreme Court Justice in the twentieth century.

Hugo La Fayette Black was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 1993.