Jack Greenberg, a civil rights lawyer who helped litigate the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, has died. He was 91.
A member of Thurgood Marshall’s inner circle at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Greenberg worked on a number of high-profile civil rights cases, including Brown, which led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision overturning racially segregated systems of public education.
Greenberg, who was in his 20s when he helped argue cases that reached the high court, was the last living lawyer involved in the Brown case.
His most significant contribution came in Delaware with Gebhart v. Belton, in which he argued that black children in the state had the right to attend the all-white schools in their neighborhoods. A judge ruled that the black schools were offering far less to their students than the white schools were to theirs. But the decision did not apply broadly throughout Delaware.
The Supreme Court combined that case with similar ones from Kansas, South Carolina, and Virginia into what is known as Brown v. Board, the Kansas suit.
When Marshall left the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1961 to serve as a federal appeals judge—and later, a Supreme Court justice—he handpicked Greenberg, who was white, as director of the organization, which he led for 23 years.
Greenberg did not see himself as an improbable choice to lead a national legal campaign against race-based segregation and discrimination.
“The question of race never really entered into it. It was a matter of human liberty. It was the principles that were involved,” he said in Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality.
A version of this article appeared in the October 26, 2016 edition of Education Week as Obituary