Archive for the 'Hugo Black of Alabama' Category

Remembering Robert Byrd

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 by Randall Williams

The passing this week of Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia makes one miss the days when Southern politicians were complicated rather than merely crass. Yes, Byrd clung to office longer than he should have. Yes, he was a master of pork barrel spending. Yes, he lined up with the states’ rights and nullification Dixiecrats in the 1960s. But — like his fellow former Klansman Hugo Black of Alabama — he overcame his racist upbringing and became a supporter of civil rights, a defender of the promises of a living Constitution, and a champion of the poor and middle classes. Even the billions of dollars of federal spending he channeled into West Virginia seemed calculated to boost Appalachia and not himself.

In recent years, Byrd seemed especially prescient on the dangers of the imperial presidency, the willingness of Congress to give up its authority over budgets and foreign policy, and the risks to the nation of deregulation, militarism, and corporatism.

It is worth remembering, as NewSouth correspondent Wayne Sabel did this morning, Byrd’s post-mortem on George W. Bush’s ruinous rush to war in Iraq:

The run up to our invasion of Iraq featured the President and members of his cabinet invoking every frightening image they could conjure, from mushroom clouds, to buried caches of germ warfare, to drones poised to deliver germ laden death in our major cities. We were treated to a heavy dose of overstatement concerning Saddam Hussein’s direct threat to our freedoms. The tactic was guaranteed to provoke a sure reaction from a nation still suffering from a combination of post traumatic stress and justifiable anger after the attacks of 9-11. It was the exploitation of fear. It was a placebo for the anger.

What has become painfully clear in the aftermath of war is that Iraq was no immediate threat to the U.S. Ravaged by years of sanctions, Iraq did not even lift an airplane against us. Iraq’s threatening death-dealing fleet of unmanned drones about which we heard so much morphed into one prototype made of plywood and string. Their missiles proved to be outdated and of limited range. Their army was quickly overwhelmed by our technology and our well trained troops.

The American people unfortunately are used to political shading, spin, and the usual chicanery they hear from public officials. They patiently tolerate it up to a point. But there is a line. It may seem to be drawn in invisible ink for a time, but eventually it will appear in dark colors, tinged with anger. When it comes to shedding American blood — when it comes to wreaking havoc on civilians, on innocent men, women, and children, callous dissembling is not acceptable. Nothing is worth that kind of lie — not oil, not revenge, not reelection, not somebody’s grand pipedream of a democratic domino theory.

And mark my words, the calculated intimidation which we see so often of late by the ‘powers that be’ will only keep the loyal opposition quiet for just so long. Because eventually, like it always does, the truth will emerge. And when it does, this house of cards, built of deceit, will fall.

— Sen. Robert C. Byrd, 1917-2010, in speech on the Senate floor, May 21, 2003

One hopes those words will also be remembered and reflected on as Byrd’s colleagues in Congress memorialize him this week.

More on SEF child poverty report

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 by Randall Williams

Southern Education Foundation vice president Steve Suitts (author of Hugo Black of Alabama) has followed up on the SEF’s recent report on expanding child poverty with an article on the Southern Spaces website. (Southern Spaces is “an interdisciplinary journal about the regions, places, and cultures of the American South.” Sort of like NewSouth Books.)

Suitts writes: “The Worst of Times: Children in Extreme Poverty in the South and Nation raises serious questions about the impact and validity of current educational policies and practices at every level on children in extreme poverty. These children exist in significant numbers in school districts in every region and state in the country. But, no educational policy at any level today acknowledges America’s large population of children in extreme poverty and the extraordinary challenges they face in education.”

Southern Education Foundation releases distressing child poverty report in the South

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 by Randall Williams

Steve Suitts, author of NewSouth’s critically acclaimed biography, Hugo Black of Alabama, is also a senior staff member at the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation (SEF), which has just released a distressing new report on the extent of child poverty in the South.

“The Worst of Times: Children in Extreme Poverty in the South and Nation” finds that a large, growing number of children in the South and the nation live in extreme poverty—surviving on less than eight dollars per day. The report calls for the White House and the U.S. Department of Education to establish a national commission to assess the educational needs of children in extreme poverty.

The SEF report analyzes the latest census data and patterns on children in extreme poverty. More than 5.7 million children lived in extreme poverty in the United States in 2008 in a household with an income below 50 percent of the federal poverty line—and 2.4 million or 42 percent of those children lived in the South.

The SEF report estimates that the recent recession has expanded the number of children in extreme poverty by approximately 26 percent—adding almost 1.5 million children in extreme poverty across the nation since 2008.

The report also finds that:

* School districts with high concentrations of extremely poor children have a disproportionately large enrollment of students of color—primarily African Americans and Hispanics.

* School districts with the largest reported percentages of extremely poor children appear to have the least money to educate these children in the schools.

* Local, state or federal policies in education fail to specifically address the needs of the nation’s poorest children.

SEF’s report includes an appendix that lists the 100 school districts in the US with the highest rates of extreme child poverty and a list of the school districts with no extreme poverty among children.

The full report or a 4-page summary can both be accessed at The Southern Education Foundation.

Steve Suits Editorial Recalls Hugo Black’s Judicial Opinions

Monday, February 8th, 2010 by Andrew

NewSouth author Steve Suitts recently contributed an op-editorial to the Daily Report, Fulton County Georgia’s leading source for legal news and information. In the editorial, Suitts, author of Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution, discusses the historical context of a recent Supreme Court ruling which struck down congressional limits on corporate campaign contributions.

Suitts also discusses Hugo Black’s role as the only Supreme Court justice to previously address the constitutionality of treating corporations as persons, an opinion he provided twice during his time on the bench.

From the article:

Black’s opinions recall a fascinating story of how corporations became persons under our Constitution virtually by default and gained expanded federal constitutional protections far earlier than people whose skin color denied them the rights of personhood …

His dissents also raise an intriguing question as to whether the current court can honestly find the legal authority and precedent to apply its recent ruling against Congress to the states through the 14th Amendment …

Steve Suitts is the founder of the Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, the vice president of the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta, and an adjunct lecturer at Emory University’s Institute of Liberal Arts. Hugo Black of Alabama is Suitts’s definitive study of Supreme Court justice Hugo Black’s origins and influences and offers fresh insights into the justice’s character, thought processes, and instincts.

Hugo Black of Alabama is available directly from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite online or local retailer.

Howard Ball Praises Steve Suitts's Hugo Black Biography in Alabama Review

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008 by Brian Seidman

Historian and political scientist Howard Ball has reviewed Steve Suitts’s Hugo Black of Alabama for the Alabama Review. In his review, Ball calls the work “outstanding,” noting that Suitts “has painted a portrait that does not avoid the warts and the impulses; he depicts the good and the bad realistically in this successful effort to give his audience … a clear sense of who Hugo Black was and why he acted the way he did.”

Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution is a definitive study of Justice Black’s origins and early influences. Black came out of hardscrabble Alabama hill country, and he was further shaped in the early twentieth-century politics of Birmingham, where he rose to the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court. One of the book’s controversial conclusions is that in the context of Birmingham in the early 1920s, Black’s joining of the KKK was a progressive act, and this startling assertion is supported by an examination of the conflict that was then raging in Birmingham between the Big Mule industrialists and the blue-collar labor unions. Black went on to become a staunch judicial advocate of free speech and civil rights, making him one of the figures most vilified by the KKK and other white supremacists in the 1950s and 1960s.

From Howard Ball’s review:

Steve Suitts’s excellent biography of the young Hugo, covering the years from his birth in 1886 through the 1926 Senate race, graciously provides answers to the “puzzlement.” Suitts gives the reader an intimate, well-written, and meticulously researched account of Black’s life from his birth in rural Clay County, Alabama, to his prosecutorial and lawyerly successes in Birmingham. In doing so, the author thoroughly analyzes the effect of these years on the future member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Several books have examined Black’s life in Alabama. Certainly, Virginia Hamilton’s Hugo Black: The Alabama Years (Baton Rouge, 1972) is a highly regarded resource. In my judgment, given my own familiarity with Hugo Black’s life (based on my research for The Vision and the Dream of Justice Hugo L. Black: An Examination of a Judicial Philosophy [Tuscaloosa, 1975], Of Power and Right: Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, and America’s Constitutional Revolution [New York, 1992], and Hugo Black: Cold Steel Warrior [New York, 1996]), Suitts’s book best explores Hugo Black’s development as an outstanding jurist and interpreter of the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes …

As a scholar who also wrote about these formative years of Black’s life, I was stunned by the quality of Suitts’s research. In preparing the book, he must have spent many months, indeed years, poring over back issues of Alabama newspapers. And this effort has given us a profoundly vibrant view of the social, political, and racial history of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Alabama. Using these original sources as well as more conventional biographical materials (letters, Black’s marginalia in books in his library, etc.), Suitts gives the reader finely crafted descriptions of Black’s experiences and explanations for his paradoxical behavior. For example, as a trial lawyer in segregationist Birmingham in the early 1900s, he used the word “nigger” for effect in civil and criminal trials but subsequently fought for equality for all Americans (see his Chambers v. Florida opinion).

Suitts’s book is a significant addition to the scholarship on the life of Hugo Black. It is required reading for anyone interested in discovering the roots of Hugo Black’s jurisprudence.

Visit the Alabama Review at their website, The full review is available from the following link. The Alabama Historical Association, founded in 1947, is the oldest statewide historical society in Alabama. The Association sponsors The Alabama Review, two newsletters each year, a state historical marker program, and several Alabama history awards. More information on the Association is available at

Hugo Black of Alabama is available directly from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite local or online book retailer. Learn more about Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black at

Hugo Black Author to Speak at Southern Historical Association Meeting

Monday, November 13th, 2006 by Brian Seidman

Hugo Black of Alabama author Steve Suitts will speak on “A Liberal Tradition: Alabamians in the U.S. Senate from the Great Depression to the Great Society” on Thursday, November 16, from 9:30-11:30 am, at the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Society, in Birmingham. He will also lead at tour group at 4:45, visiting various historical sites in Birmingham pertaining to the life of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.

The Southern Historical Association will also offer three other tours, examining historical downtown Birmingham, Birmingham civil rights landmarks, and and the fantastic Birmingham estates. For more information on all of these tours, contact, or visit

Hugo Black of Alabama is available directly from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite local or online book retailer. Learn more about Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black at

Hugo Black of Alabama Released in eBook Format

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006 by Brian Seidman

Hugo Black of Alabama by Steve Suitts, the award-winning biography of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, has now been released in Adobe Reader eBook format. Featuring a fully searchable text and hyperlinked index, the electronic release of the book offers a powerful tool for legal scholars, putting the complete history of Justice Black’s life from his youth in Alabama to his time in the US Senate all accessible at the click of a cursor.

Hugo Black of Alabama is available in Adobe Reader format from Powells Books and many other online eBook retailers. To see the full line of NewSouth books available electronically, visit our ebook page.

For more information on Hugo Black of Alabama, visit

Hugo Black Author Steve Suitts Wins Georgia Author of the Year Award

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006 by Brian Seidman

Congratulations to NewSouth author Steve Suitts, who has won the Georgia Author of the Year Award for Biography, for his book Hugo Black of Alabama. This definitive study of Blacks origins and early influences offers fresh insights into the justices character, thought processes, and instincts, detailing Black’s rise from the hardscrabble Alabama hill country to his nomination as a Supreme Court justice.

The Georgia Author of the Year Awards (GAYA) began in 1964, and it is the oldest literary award in the Southeastern region. Sponsored by the Georgia Writers Association, they note that the award is meant “to recognize and acknowledge Georgia’s wealth of outstanding writers and to acquaint them with the public and one another, thus continuing our literary heritage.”

Hugo Black of Alabama is available directly from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite local or online book retailer. Learn more about Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black at

Listen to Hugo Black of Alabama Audio Review

Monday, July 17th, 2006 by Brian Seidman

Don Noble of Alabama Public Radio has published an audio review of NewSouth’s Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution, by Steve Suitts. Earlier this year, Suitts lectures on “Hugo Black’s Constitution” at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

Listen to Don Noble’s review at the following link.

Hugo Black of Alabama is available directly from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite local or online book retailer. Learn more about Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black at