In Memoriam: Robert Lee Carter (1917-2012)

Robert L. Carter, a notable civil rights attorney who served on the federal district court bench for more than 30 years, has died from complications of a stroke at a hospital in New York City. He was 94 years old.

Carter was a key lieutenant of Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund during the 1940s and 1950s when the critical legal battles were fought to end racial segregation in higher education and the nation’s public schools.

Robert Carter was born in Caryville, Florida, but was raised in northern New Jersey. After graduating from Barringer High School in Newark, he enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He later would earn a law degree at Howard University and a master’s degree in law from Columbia University.

In cases leading up to Brown v. Board of Education, Carter argued 22 cases before the Supreme Court. He won 21 times. Carter argued three of the five preliminary cases in the district courts which were combined to form the Brown case. Young Linda Brown, whose name later became synonymous with the battle to end racial segregation in schools, never met Thurgood Marshall. It was Robert Carter who handled her case in Topeka, Kansas.

Carter was appointed to the federal bench by President Nixon in 1972. Over the years he held adjunct teaching positions at the law schools of Yale, New York University, and the University of Michigan. In 2000 he was named to the Haywood Burns Chair in Civil Rights at the City University of New York School of Law.

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