Hugo Black served in the U.S. Senate and on the U.S. Supreme Court for 34 years. He was appointed and confirmed to the Court in August 1937. Shortly after his appointment, he survived a national uproar over his prior, brief membership in the Ku Klux Klan. Black explained that he abhorred racial and religious intolerance even though he had once been a member. He went on to be the earliest proponent of the judicial revolution that established a national bill of rights for all persons subject to the U.S. Constitution. And in 1954, Black joined in the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion outlawing racial segregation in public education in Brown v. Board of Education, in effect, destroying the legal basis of segregated America. Today, Justice Black is remembered as one of the nation’s foremost champions of the First Amendment and, in his words, the rights of the “weak, helpless, and outnumbered.”
Hugo Lafayette Black was born in Harlan, a small community in southern Clay County, on February 27, 1886. Black’s early understanding of the world was shaped by the primary institutions of rural Alabama life: family, church, school, and courthouse. During these formative years, Black adored his deeply religious mother, Ardellah, and grew estranged from his father, William Lafayette Black, a conservative local merchant whose failure to repent for repeated bouts of public drunkenness prompted his expulsion from the local Baptist church. The family moved to the county seat, Ashland, in 1890. When not in school, Black spent much of his childhood in and around the Clay County courthouse attending political rallies or watching criminal trials.