The Plank

What Is Malcolm Gladwell Talking About (cont'd)?

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Not to pile on Malcolm Gladwell (whom I generally like a bit more than Isaac), but his contrasting Atticus Finch--and his stoic response to Tom Robinson being found guilty--with Thurgood Marshall makes no sense. Gladwell writes:

If Finch were a civil-rights hero, he would be brimming with rage at the unjust verdict. But he isn’t. He’s not Thurgood Marshall looking for racial salvation through the law.

Did Marshall once ever launch an extra-judicial protest over a bad verdict? It's admittedly been a few years since I read Juan Williams's very good biography of Marshall, but I think the answer is no. In fact, here's a 1990 article Williams wrote about Marshall that includes the following story about a case Marshall worked on shortly after graduating from Howard Law School:

Houston had Marshall assist him in the case of George Crawford, a black man charged with murdering a white man in Loudoun County, Va. After a strong defense, Crawford was convicted and given life.

"We won it," Marshall says. "If you got a Negro charged with killing a white person in Virginia and you got life imprisonment, then you've won. Normally they were hanging them in those days."

What, exactly, does Gladwell wish Finch had done? Storm out of the court in a blind rage? That certainly doesn't seem to have been Thurgood Marshall's style.

--Jason Zengerle

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