What Fresh Hell Is This?

March 15, 2013

Thurgood at the PPT

Last night, a few other local Pittsburgh bloggers and I got to see the PPT's production of Thurgood playing at the O'Reilly dahn-tahn.  A good play, a good performance by Montae Russell, a good evening all the way round.

The play itself was written by George Stevens, Jr. and opened on Broadway in April of 2008 with Laurence Fishburne as Thurgood Marshall.  Earned the grown up Clean Miller a Tony nomination, by the way.

Told in the first person, this one-man bio relates many anecdotes of Marshall's life - including, of course, his interactions with some of the most important legal events of 20th century America.  Brown v Board of Education ranks high in those events.

In the rare event that you didn't know (or have been living under a rock for the past 6 decades or you get your news entirely from Fox News), that was the case where the Supreme Court unanimously declared that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." Plessy and educational segregation was ended.

I was curious to see how the decision played out in the local press at the time - what did the Post-Gazette have to say about it?  The Pittsburgh Press?  Luckily, the Google News Archive gives us access to both.

On May 18th, 1954, the editorial board of the Editorial Board of the Post-Gazette editorialized in favor of the ruling:


And published this editorial cartoon a day later (May 19, 1954):


One really can't fault Cy Hungerford for being a man of his time (I am sure he was a great guy and he obviously thought the end of school segregation was a good thing) but there's something mildly offensive to me about about the whole imagery.  Seems a bit patronizing - with a little more than a hint of racial caricature in how the two kids were drawn.  To my eyes, at least.

On the other hand, I'm looking in from more than five decades later - how was Cy to see that I'd be put off by his cartoon 59 years later?

The Press was similarly pleased (with a caveat of sorts) with the decision:


And the caveat?  This paragraph:


Extremists of both races?  I know what white extremism looked like on that then - this is from the front page of the Press from that very day:


What would the opposite analog be?  What was the extremism opposing segregation looking like back then?  How many troops?

59 years since Brown is a long time, to be sure.

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