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The Color of Law

Ernie Goodman, Detroit, and the Struggle for Labor and Civil Rights

Steve Babson, Dave Riddle, and David Elsila

Publication Year: 2010

In a working life that spanned half a century, Ernie Goodman was one of the nation’s preeminent defense attorneys for workers and the militant poor. His remarkable career put him at the center of the struggle for social justice in the twentieth century, from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the Red Scare of the 1950s to the freedom struggles, anti-war demonstrations, and ghetto rebellions of the 1960s and 1970s. The Color of Law: Ernie Goodman, Detroit, and the Struggle for Labor and Civil Rights traces Goodman’s journey through these tumultuous events and highlights the many moments when changing perceptions of social justice clashed with legal precedent. Authors Steve Babson, Dave Riddle, and David Elsila tell Goodman’s life story, beginning with his formative years as the son of immigrant parents in Detroit’s Jewish ghetto, to his early ambitions as a corporate lawyer, and his conversion to socialism and labor law during the Great Depression. From Detroit to Mississippi, Goodman saw police and other officials giving the “color of law” to actions that stifled freedom of speech and nullified the rights of workers and minorities. The authors highlight Goodman’s landmark cases in defense of labor and civil rights and examine the complex relationships he developed along the way with individuals like Supreme Court Justice and former Michigan governor Frank Murphy, UAW president Walter Reuther, Detroit mayor Coleman Young, and congressman George Crockett. Drawing from a rich collection of letters, oral histories, court records, and press accounts, the authors re-create the compelling story of Goodman’s life. The Color of Law demonstrates that the abuse of power is non-partisan and that individuals who oppose injustice can change the course of events. For additional information, reviews, photos, and events, please see erniegoodman.com.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. vii-xi

This is a book about the people and the social forces that have changed our society over the last century, told through the story of Ernie Goodman, the Detroit lawyer and political activist who played such a unique role in the struggle...

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1. In Dark Times

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pp. 1-8

At 9:44 a.m. on 13 September 1971, a National Guard helicopter roared over the walls of Attica state prison in western New York and began dropping tear gas. The target was Cell Block D and its exercise yard, where twelve hundred...

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2. Out of the Ghetto

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pp. 9-45

On a hot day in the top- floor study room of Detroit’s Central High School, fifteen- year- old Ernie Goodman heard shouting in the schoolyard below and went to the open window. It was 1921, and the gathering conflict between...

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3. Taking a Stand

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pp. 46-88

"If I worked for a wage,” Frank Murphy announced to union supporters the night he became governor- elect of Michigan, “I’d join my union.” Murphy had just been swept to victory in November 1936, on the same landslide that carried...

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4. Home Front

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pp. 89-133

Ernie Goodman had a lot to think about that morning as he crossed Cadillac Square and entered the Barlum office tower in downtown Detroit. It was September 1939, and this was the first day of his new job in Maurice Sugar’s law firm...

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5. Hard Landing

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pp. 134-178

He was getting used to flying. He had to during the war and especially now afterward as his work took him across the continent, from New York City to San Francisco and, on this October day in 1946, Milwaukee. The DC- 3 taxied...

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6. Winter Soldier

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pp. 179-223

A January day in 1950 and the offices seemed deserted. Goodman had just returned from his first trip overseas, to Germany, where he had defended another black GI accused of murder. He had flown back to Detroit invigorated...

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7. Getting By

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pp. 224-237

"It was a constant, ambivalent feeling,” Goodman remembered of the early 1950s. “Year after year, case after case came along. The stress, not only on myself, but other lawyers in the same predicament, it was enormous.” Goodman believed that history...

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8. Conspiracy of Belief

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pp. 238-284

Goodman had been the subject of media attention during the HUAC hearings of 1952, but this would intensify dramatically as he moved from one trial to the next over the following eight years. As defense counsel for local Communists...

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9. Southern Exposure

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pp. 285-320

Goodman looked out over the audience. It was a big crowd, overwhelmingly black. Speaking to large assemblies still made him nervous, the tension knotting his stomach. The planners of the event had predicted that two thousand...

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10. Mississippi

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pp. 321-365

In the late winter of 1963, somewhere inside Detroit’s massive, granite-faced Federal Building, Special Agent Wayland Archer sifted through a thick file of reports on Ernest Goodman. The file had grown along with the civil rights movement...

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11. Rebellion and Reaction

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pp. 366-416

He was apprehensive, more so than he’d expected. It was, he assured himself, a familiar room, the auditorium on the second floor of Central Methodist Church, the massive stone building on lower Woodward Avenue where he had spoken...

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12. Attica

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pp. 417-443

Tear gas was still hanging in the air at Attica when prison authorities gave their first reports of inmate atrocities. Under orders from Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the New York state police had just retaken control of the prison...

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13. The Longer View

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pp. 444-466

It was only a three- hour drive northeast of Detroit, but Stratford, Ontario, seemed a world away. There were several routes to the Shakespeare Festival that Ernie and Freda knew well, crossing the river into Canada at Detroit or Port Huron, often traveling...


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pp. 467-542


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pp. 543-558

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814336380
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814334966

Page Count: 592
Illustrations: 31
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Volume Title: N/a

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Subject Headings

  • Goodman, Ernest, 1906-1997.
  • Lawyers -- Michigan -- Detroit -- Biography.
  • Civil rights -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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