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It’s Black History Month, and we are paying tribute to a well-known and universally admired man, the first African-American on the U.S. Supreme Court; and a little-known but truly courageous woman, who was born a slave, and grew up to be a muckraking journalist who exposed the horror of lynchings, and the men behind them.

Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court justice, a former death penalty attorney who opposed capital punishment his entire life. “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute,” he wrote in his 1972 concurrence in Furman v. Georgia, which found the death penalty unconstitutional. In one sentence he summed up why Death Penalty Focus, and so many others, have fought so long to abolish the death penalty in the United States.

Not only was Ida B. Wells as passionate and outspoken as Thurgood Marshall, she was a woman, and she was born a slave in 1862. In a profile Sunday, the New York Times wrote “She had risen from being orphaned as a child to one of the most forceful voices against the lynchings of black Americans. A muckraking journalist, she investigated the true motivation behind a vicious lynching in Memphis — a white businessman’s retaliation against a successful black store. In 1892, she was run out of the city, after she wrote about her discovery that white mobs often murdered black men under accusations of rape to cover up consensual sex between white women and black men.”

The Times reports that Wells helped found the NAACP, and that 30 years before Rosa Parks was born, Wells refused to give up her seat on a train, was arrested, and appealed her case to the Tennessee Supreme Court, where she lost.

 

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