December 20, 2005 Steve Suitts to Discuss His Book "Hugo Black of Alabama" on Jan. 12

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Robert Saladini (202) 707-2692

Steve Suitts will discuss his book “Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution” at the Library of Congress at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 12, in Room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

The event, which is sponsored by the Library’s John W. Kluge Center and the Supreme Court Historical Society, is free and open to the public; no reservations are required. Hugo Black, who served on the Supreme Court from 1937 to 1971, was one of America’s most controversial justices. In Birmingham in the 1920s, he became a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Decades later, as a son of the South, he was a staunch judicial champion of free speech, civil liberties and civil rights.

In “Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution,” Suitts shows how Black was shaped by his Alabama origins and early influences. More than 25 years in the making, the book offers fresh, dramatic insights into Black's character, philosophy and ethics. It chronicles his struggles with family tragedies, profound racism, biracial poverty and Alabama-style conflicts over American ideals of justice.

Anthony Lewis, who won a Pulitzer Prize in1963 for reporting on the Supreme Court, called the book “a riveting account of the forces that shaped Hugo Black into the man I think was the most remarkable Supreme Court justice of the 20th century.” Sheldon Hackney, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, said, “ ... Steve Suitts lets the reader see why Hugo Black was a great man, and how he fell short of perfection. In particular, Black's membership in the Ku Klux Klan and the role of the Klan in Alabama in the 1920s is analyzed in a completely fresh and honest way.”

Paul M. Gaston, professor emeritus of Southern and civil rights history at the University of Virginia, said, “Biographers and historians have long wondered how it could be that Hugo Black, once a shrewd Alabama politician and even a Klansman, could become the nation’s preeminent advocate of constitutional rectitude, justice, and equal rights. Until Steve Suitts came along, that question was hard to answer.”

Suitts, a native of Winston County, Ala., is the founder of the Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and for 20 years was the director of the Southern Regional Council. He now works for the Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta, where he lives.

The Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress holds the papers of Black, which were donated to the Library by his family and friends shortly after his death in 1971. The papers cover many aspects of his personal life and political career, when he was a U.S. senator from Alabama (1927 to 1937), in addition to his contributions to constitutional law. His papers comprise one of the largest of the Manuscript Division’s judicial collections.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library established the Kluge Center in 2000. The center brings leading scholars together with key Washington policymakers to discuss important world issues, drawing on the Library’s incomparable collections. For further information, visit

The Supreme Court Historical Society, a private non-profit organization, is dedicated to the preservation of the history of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger founded the society in 1974 and served as its first honorary chairman. The society conducts educational programs, supports historical research, publishes books and journals and collects antiques and artifacts related to the Supreme Court’s history. For more information, visit


PR 05-259
ISSN 0731-3527