Charles Morgan, Jr.

Charles "Chuck" Morgan Jr. (March 11, 1930 January 8, 2009) was an American civil rights attorney from Alabama who played a key role in establishing the principle of "one man, one vote" in the Supreme Court of the United States decision in the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sims and represented Julian Bond and Muhammad Ali in their legal battles.


Morgan was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 11, 1930, and was raised in Kentucky. He moved with his family to Birmingham, Alabama, at the age of 15. The Morgan family was always known to employ black help in their household.[1] Morgan attended the University of Alabama, where he earned his law degree and met his wife, the former Camille Walpole.[2]

The day after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four black girls in Birmingham in September 1963, Morgan spoke out publicly at a lunch time meeting he was having with the Birmingham Young Men's Business Club, right in the middle of the city's White Establishment,[1] to blame community leaders for their role in failing to stand up to the climate of racial hatred, stating that "Every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb". Morgan stated: "Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, 'Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?' The answer should be, 'We all did it.' Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it." [1] Morgan accused Birmingham's white leaders of nurturing the violent air of discrimination that already existed.[3] Up until this point, his law career had been doing fine, but this speech changed that for him. His statements harmed his legal practice and led to death threats against him and his family. These threats were what caused Morgan to have to close his law practice down and move his family out of Birmingham.[2][4]

The two biggest points of democratic power Morgan focused on were voting and equal dealing out of justice among all citizens but specifically for Southern blacks. Although he placed his focus on African Americans in the South, during his career as a lawyer, Morgan defended many other people of different walks of life-all different races, genders, backgrounds, etc. He even defended people he disagreed with.[3]

As the Civil Rights Movement was progressing, separatism became a more prevalent and widespread idea. Advocates for the movement spoke out for separatism more and more. But Morgan did not; he continued to hold fast to his belief that integration over separatism is what will work. Morgan had always had close ties and favorable relations with groups he does not necessarily agree with, though, such as the segregationists and "silent moderates". This was possible for him because he used the same tolerance in his everyday life and career that he taught to others.[3]

Charles Morgan was a Democrat his entire life. He was attracted first to populist James E. Folsom, governor for two non-consecutive terms from 1947 to 1959. One of the things that drew Morgan to Folsom was Folsom's early beliefs in integration. Folsom stated, "As long as the Negroes are held down by deprivation and lack of opportunity, the other poor people will be held down alongside them," in 1949.[1]

Harrison Salisbury wrote a controversial piece in The New York TImes in 1960 that corresponded with Morgan's future tones and beliefs. Bureaucrats sued the paper on claims of libel. The court subpoenaed Reverend Robert Hughes, who was a white Methodist minister and also director of the Alabama Council on Human Relations, for records of those who supported the council; Hughes wanted to fight the subpoena, so he asked Charles Morgan to represent him. Because he represented Hughes (called a "nigger lover" by whites and racists) in the case, the Ku Klux Klan began to harass Morgan. He received anonymous phone calls, harassment in the courthouse from members, and various threats. Being bullied by the Klan made Morgan come to realize that there were two sides to this equal rights fight; supporters for them, and those against them. He had inadvertently chosen a side.[1]

Because of this, Morgan became more radical in his practices and beliefs, but all the while staying within the law. He represented Boaz Sanders, a black murder defendant, and sued his own alma mater, the University of Alabama, because they would not admit two black men to the school.[1]

In 1964, he established the Southern Regional Office for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Atlanta.[5] He fought three court cases concerning Vietnam War protests as a leader of the ACLU. Through these cases, he was responsible for directing international attention to the limitations placed on soldiers' free speech.[6] Morgan was also involved in the ACLU's effort to have President Nixon impeached from office; in fact, he led the effort.[6] In 1972, the ACLU named Morgan as the legislative director of its national office in Washington, D.C.[5]

Morgan and a group of other lawyers filed a lawsuit in 1962 that aimed to require reapportionment of the Alabama Legislature, to undo a system under which rural counties in southern Alabama had far greater voting strength than areas in the urbanized northern portion of the state. In the 1964 Supreme Court case Reynolds v. Sims, Morgan successfully argued that districts in state legislatures needed to be of nearly equal size, establishing the principle of "one man, one vote" to effectively end the use of gerrymandering that gave greater political power to the rural legislators who controlled the Alabama Legislature.[2][5] Morgan was also a part of the White v. Crook case. This case caused Alabama juries to become racially integrated, and declared that barring women from the Alabama juries was unconstitutional. Another big case that Charles Morgan was invested in was the case of Whitus v. Georgia of 1967. In this case, five Georgian death penalty convictions were set aside because the case declared discriminatory juries as a result of racially segregated tax digests unconstitutional.[7]

After Julian Bond was prevented from taking his seat in the Georgia House of Representatives after having made statements opposing United States involvement in the Vietnam War, Morgan appealed to the United States Supreme Court successfully to have Bond seated.[5]

He also served on Muhammad Ali's legal team that appealed his conviction on draft evasion after Ali refused to serve during the Vietnam War citing religious objections, and successfully appealed the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.[5]

In 1967, Morgan represented Captain Howard Levy who was court martialed in 1967 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, after Levy refused an order to teach dermatology to medical aidmen serving in the Green Berets since he considered the Special Forces "killers of peasants and murderers of women and children".[2] Morgan raised the Nuremberg Defense on behalf of Levy, arguing that U.S. troops were committing atrocities in Vietnam and that American soldiers can lawfully refuse to obey orders related to Vietnam service.[8] Levy was sentenced to three years in prison, and was released after serving more than two years.[2]

At a party in Washington, D.C., an attendee from New York indicated that he would not vote for Jimmy Carter for president because of his Southern accent, to which Morgan replied "That's bigotry, and that makes you a bigot." Aryeh Neier, the ACLU's executive director, reprimanded Morgan, and criticizing Morgan's taking a public position on a candidate for public office.[2] Morgan resigned from his post in April 1976, citing efforts by the bureaucracy at the ACLU to restrict his public statements.[9]

After leaving the ACLU, he spent the remainder of his career in private practice. He represented the Tobacco Institute in its opposition to smoking bans and won a number of cases for Sears, Roebuck and Company in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had accused the company of racial and sexual discrimination due not to complaints from employees but rather due to EEOC analysis of data from Sears which was interpreted as evidence of discrimination. Sears won their case, in part, because the EEOC was unable to produce a single witness who alleged discriminatory hiring or promotion within Sears.[2][10][11]

During his lifetime, Charles Morgan wrote two books: A Time to Speak (describing his experiences prior to 1963) and One Man, One Vote (describing his experiences in the 1960s and 1970s). In A Time to Speak, Morgan wrote: "What's it like living in Birmingham? No one ever really has known and no one will until this city becomes part of the United States. Birmingham is not a dying city; it is dead." [1][7]

Morgan died at age 78 on January 8, 2009, at his home in Destin, Florida, as a result of complications from Alzheimer's disease.[5]



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Cohen, Andrew. "The Atlantic." The Atlantic. The Atlantic, 13 Sept. 2013. Web. 03 Nov. 2013
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Reed, Roy. "Charles Morgan Jr., 78, Dies; Leading Civil Rights Lawyer", The New York Times, January 9, 2009. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  3. 1 2 3 Powledge, Fred. "SOMETHING FOR A LAWYER TO DO." The New Yorker 25 Oct. 1969, Profiles sec.: 62. The New Yorker. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.
  4. "A Time to Speak: a speech by Charles Morgan" on YouTube, September 16, 1963. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Weaver, Kendal of the Associated Press. "Charles Morgan Jr., 78, argued for '1 man, 1 vote'", Sun-Sentinel, January 12, 2009. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  6. 1 2 Reed, Roy. "Charles Morgan Jr., 78, Dies; Leading Civil Rights Lawyer." The New York Times. The New York Times, 9 Jan. 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.
  7. 1 2 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-02. Retrieved 2013-11-03. Alabama State Bar. "Charles Morgan, Jr." Alabama State Bar. State of Alabama, 2013. Web. 03 Nov. 2013.
  8. Bigart, Homer. "Court Martial; Levy Pleads the 'Nuremberg Defense' Complexion Changes Defense Strategy Soldier's Rights", The New York Times, May 21, 1967. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  9. Illson, Murray. "WASHINGTON CHIEF OF A.C.L.U. RESIGNS; Charles Morgan Jr. Charges Superiors Tried to Restrict His Public Statements", The New York Times, April 10, 1976. Accessed January 12, 2009.
  10. EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 628 F. Supp. 1264 (N.D. Ill. 1986) (Sears II).
  11. Possley, Maurice (1986). Sears Wins 12-year Fight Over Bias Chigago Tribune 04 February 1986. Retrieved 2012-12-10.
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