July 21, 1899 – Birthdate of Nathan Ross Margold

Nathan Margold, who drew up the blueprint for NAACP’s strategy in Brown v. Board of Education, was born on this day in history in Romania. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1901, and he was raised in Brooklyn, New York. He attended law school at Harvard, where he served on the law review along with Charles Hamilton Houston, the first black member of the Harvard Law Review and later the influential dean of Howard Law School. After graduation, Margold served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

In 1927, Felix Frankfurter recruited Margold to teach criminal law at Harvard, and he taught there for a year before the law school decided that two Jewish reformers on the faculty were at least one too many; Margold returned to practice in New York.

In 1930, both Frankfurter and Charles Houston recruited Margold to serve as Special Counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Margold was hired to coordinate the NAACP’s strategic litigation plan “to give the Southern Negro his constitutional rights, [and] his political and civil equality.”

To that end, Margold wrote a 218-page report outlining a legal strategy for desegregating public schools in the South.

The Margold Report, The New York Public Library

The Margold Report, The New York Public Library

As Eva Paterson reports of Margold:

He proposed a twofold litigation strategy: (1) “boldly challenge the constitutional validity of segregation if and when accompanied irremediably by discrimination” due to the lack of a state statute obligating school officials to comply with Plessy v. Ferguson; and (2) rely on Yick Wo v. Hopkins to challenge facially neutral state segregation laws that denied equal protection because of unequal application by school officials. Hence, Margold’s plan was thoroughly laced with court-based rights advocacy and became the bedrock of the NAACP legal strategy toward Brown.” (Eva Paterson et al., Equal Justice—Same Vision in a New Day, Yale L.J. (The Pocket Part), Nov. 2005.)

Margold left the NAACP in 1933 to join other former students of Felix Frankfurter in the new Franklin Roosevelt administration, serving as solicitor for the Department of Interior until 1942. FDR appointed him as a judge for the Municipal Court for the District of Columbia, and in 1945 he moved to the District Court, where he served until his death in 1947.

Meanwhile, after Margold left the NAACP, Houston took over as Special Counsel, and continued to direct efforts to end segregation, recruiting his top student at Howard, Thurgood Marshall, to assist him.

Thurgood Marshall in 1936 at the beginning of his career with the NAACP

Thurgood Marshall in 1936 at the beginning of his career with the NAACP

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