The lawyer who won landmark civil rights cases
Many white people fought alongside blacks in the civil rights struggle, but none played as crucial a role as Jack Greenberg. As a young lawyer in the early 1950s, Greenberg served as an assistant counsel to Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that abolished “separate but equal” racially segregated public schools. When Marshall was appointed as a federal appeals judge in 1961—he later became the first African-American Supreme Court justice—his protégé took over as chair of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Greenberg went on to argue dozens of landmark civil rights cases on issues including anti-miscegenation laws, employment discrimination, and the death penalty. “Civil rights is not a Negro cause,” he said. “It is a human cause.”
Greenberg was born in New York City to Jewish immigrants who had “fled the pogroms and anti-Semitism of Eastern Europe,” said The Washington Post. He served in the Navy during World War II and joined the LDF soon after graduating from Columbia Law School in 1948. Talented and passionate, he “became part of Marshall’s inner circle” and—at age 27—argued two of the five cases that led to the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision. When Marshall joined the Supreme Court in 1967, he “named Greenberg to succeed him as director-counsel of the defense fund,” said The New York Times. Many in the organization felt the role should have gone to a black lawyer, but Marshall insisted that, “as those who are fighting discrimination, we cannot afford to practice it.” Under Greenberg, LDF lawyers represented Martin Luther King Jr. when the civil rights leader was jailed in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 and argued “more than 40 civil rights cases before the Supreme Court.” One of those, 1972’s Furman v. Georgia, saw the court effectively place a nationwide moratorium on executions that lasted for four years.
“Greenberg stepped down as the LDF’s directorcounsel in 1984,” said TheAtlantic.com. He spent the rest of his career at Columbia Law School, first as a professor, then as dean. Greenberg acknowledged that the civil rights–era promises of racial equality hadn’t been realized but was nevertheless enormously proud of his work. “One way of putting it is the glass is [now] half empty or half full,” he said in 1994. “In 1954, the glass was completely empty.”
The Boy Scout who became a national hero
In July 1939, Donn Fendler mesmerized the nation. The 12-year-old Boy Scout from Rye, N.Y., had set out with his father, two brothers, and two friends to scale the 5,267-foot-high Mount Katahdin, the tallest peak in Maine. But nearing the summit, he got lost in the fog, and for nine desperate days his disappearance dominated headlines and airwaves, attracting even more attention than Nazi Germany’s escalating aggression in Europe. Thousands of mothers sent prayers by Western Union to Fendler’s mom, and New York State Police sent two of their best bloodhounds by air to join the search parties. As authorities and local mill workers scoured the mountain, Fendler used his scouting skills to survive, eating wild berries and evading bears. Finally, the owner of a hunting camp spied him sobbing on the bank of the Penobscot River, 35 miles from where he’d last been seen, emaciated, nearly naked and riddled with insect bites. Asked his name, he said, simply, “Donn Fendler. I was lost on the mountain.”
Born in Rye to a homemaker mother and a father “who sold clerical vestments,” Fendler was on a family vacation when he took his fateful hike, said The Washington Post. After getting lost, he recalled his Scout training and followed a small stream “toward what he hoped would be camp or town,” said The New York Times. But he lost his sneakers in the water, and while “trying to throw his soaked jeans onto a rock,” he missed and they, too, floated away. “At night, he curled up between tree roots and covered himself with moss.” After more than a week, Fendler was losing strength but “the sight of telephone wires suggested to him that he was on the right track.” When camp owner Nelson McMoarn found him, Fendler had lost 16 pounds.
Hailed as a hero for his plucky self-reliance, Fendler “was honored with a parade and featured in Life magazine,” said the Associated Press. Later, he received a medal of valor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fendler served in the Navy in the final years of World War II and with Army Special Forces in Vietnam. To the end of his life, he regaled schoolchildren with his boyhood adventure. “I hope the message that I give sinks in,” Fendler said in 2008. “It’s really about faith and determination.”
The North Vietnamese propagandist who taunted American GIs
Trinh Thi Ngo 1930–2016
Almost every American GI who fought in the Vietnam War knew the silken voice of Trinh Thi Ngo. “Hanoi Hannah,” as the troops called her, was a propagandist on North Vietnamese radio who played songs by Elvis, Bob Dylan, and the Animals and urged U.S. soldiers to give up the fight. “Defect, GI,” she would say in pitch-perfect English. “You know you cannot win this war.” Ngo chronicled U.S. defeats on the battlefield, read out long lists of GI casualties, and aired statements from American antiwar activists. “She’s a marvelous entertainer,” said Sen. John McCain, a former Navy pilot who was held captive by the North Vietnamese for 5½ years. “I’m surprised she didn’t get to Hollywood.”
Ngo “was an unlikely candidate to become the voice of communism,” said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). Born to a wealthy Hanoi family, she learned English from private tutors and Hollywood movies. “I always preferred American movies to French films,” she said. “The French talked too much.” After the 1954 division of Vietnam into the communist North and non-communist South, she joined Hanoi’s Voice of Vietnam radio. With the mass arrival of U.S. troops in South Vietnam 10 years later, Ngo began broadcasting three 30-minute shows each day, under the name Thu Huong (“Autumn Fragrance”).
Many GIs listened to her broadcasts because her information was “sometimes more accurate than what could be gleaned from sanitized U.S. Armed Forces Radio,” said The Economist. She revealed in 1967, for example, that rioting was going on in Detroit. It was only after the war that she discovered GIs had called her Hanoi Hannah—not that she cared. “What mattered,” she said, “was that they listened to our radio programs.”