A former US Senator from Alabama, Hugo Black became the 5th longest-serving Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in US History. His influence on US law in and beyond the 20th century is significant. Appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Black was a liberal stalwart, although he occasionally surprised court observers, such as when he upheld the right of the United States Government to intern Japanese Americans during World War II.
Black’s involvement with the Ku Klux Klan was revealed when his resignation letter to the organization was discovered and exposed to the world by a Pittsburgh newspaper reporter. Black admitted membership but claimed he resigned from all Klan activities prior to taking his seat as a United States Senator.
When Black’s association with the KKK became an issue prior to confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice, the President of the United States, FDR, said simply that “…a man’s private life is supposed to be his private life…” and refused to withdraw the nomination. During his career in the Senate, Black consistently opposed anti-lynching legislation when it was debated throughout the 1930s. He remained an active supporter of FDR’s policies and was an advocate of the Supreme Court packing plan.
In 1937 Black was well known for opposing the Catholic Church on institutional grounds and although he was no longer a member of the KKK gave speeches at Klan meetings throughout Alabama while serving in the United States Senate. In many of these speeches, he spoke out against the influence of the Catholic Church. Later in his career, he spoke out against segregation in public schools. Like many southerners of his generation, his positions on race and equality issues were complicated, but there is no doubt that he was at one time an active member of the Ku Klux Klan.