Modernism Quotes in Arc of Justice
In the early 1920s, sophisticates scrambled to grab a share of the black life that southern migration was bringing into the cities. White producers mounted all-black musicals. White couples fumbled with the Charleston. And white patrons poured into Chicago’s South Side jazz joints and Harlem’s nightclubs. If they were lucky, they squeezed into the Vendome, where Louis Armstrong held the floor, or Edmund’s Cellar, where Ethel Waters sang the blues. The frenzy was shot through with condescension. White slummers thought black life exciting because it was “primitive” and vital. Visiting the ghetto’s haunts became the era’s way to snub mainstream society, to be in the avant-garde.
Once he embraced the avant-garde, he lost all faith in the legal system—“society is organized injustice,” he insisted—and grew bored with the intricacies of legal procedure. But he continued to practice law because in the glare of a high-profile case he found the perfect opportunity to attack the status quo and proclaim the modernist creed. “This meant more than the quibbling with lawyers and juries, to get or keep money for a client so that I could take part of what I won or saved for him,” he said in his old age. “I was dealing with life, with its hopes and fears, its aspirations and despairs. With me it was going to the foundation of motive and conduct and adjustments for human beings, instead of blindly talking of hatred and vengeance, and that subtle, indefinable quality that men call ‘justice’ and of which nothing is really known.”
But his message was soothingly soft. He wouldn’t demand that the walls of segregation be brought down, that whites welcome blacks into their neighborhoods, or that they acknowledge Negroes as the brothers they were. Like Johnny Smith before him, he asked for nothing more than tolerance. “I ask you gentlemen in behalf of my clients,” he boomed, “I ask you more than anything else, I ask you in behalf of justice, often maligned and down-trodden, hard to protect and hard to maintain, I ask you in behalf of yourselves, in behalf of our race, to see that no harm comes to them. I ask you gentlemen in the name of the future, the future which will one day solve these sore problems, and the future which is theirs as well as ours, I ask you in the name of the future to do justice in this case.”
“Prejudices have burned men at the stake,” Darrow told the jurors, “broken them on the rack, torn every joint apart, destroyed people by the million. Men have done this on account of some terrible prejudice which even now is reaching out to undermine this republic of ours and to destroy the freedom that has been the most cherished part of our institutions. These witnesses honestly believe that it is their duty to keep colored people out. They honestly believe that blacks are an inferior race and yet if they look at themselves, I don’t know how they can […] They are possessed with that idea and that fanaticism, and when people are possessed with that they are terribly cruel. […] Others will do the same thing as long as this weary world shall last […]but, gentlemen, they ought not to ask you to do it for them.”