Memorial Service for Prof. Charles Black, Sunday, January 27
Below is a biography of Professor Black originally published in the Summer 2001 Yale Law Report.
"In Memoriam: Charles L. Black, Jr."
By Susan L. Gonz?z
Staff Writer Yale Bulletin & Calendar
Yale University Office of Public Affairs
Charles L. Black, Jr. '43, a leading scholar of constitutional law who influenced national policy and thought on such contentious issues as desegregation, presidential impeachment, and the death penalty, died at his home in Manhattan on May 5, 2001, after a long illness.
Professor Black, who was 85, was a member of the Yale faculty for three decades. At the time of his death, he was Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law. He is best known for his role in the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case and for his Impeachment: A Handbook, which served for many Americans as a trustworthy analysis of the law of impeachment during the Watergate scandal and again during the 1999 proceedings against President Bill Clinton '73.
Among colleagues, friends, and students, Professor Black was known as a Renaissance man because of his expansive interests and expertise. He wrote poetry (three volumes of his works were published), created sculpture, painted landscapes and abstract images in oil, and played the trumpet and what he called a "cowboy harmonica."
"Charles Black was a giant of a man--intellectually, morally and spiritually," said Yale Law School Dean Anthony T. Kronman. "He was a great, inventive scholar, a champion of civil rights, a poet of real distinction, and a devoted student, in his last years, of the old Icelandic sagas. No one who ever heard Charles tell a story in his delicious Texas drawl will ever forget the man's wit, passion, erudition, and common humanity. Charles was truly beloved by his colleagues on the faculty and by generations of students, who learned much about law and life from a master in both domains."
Born in 1915 in Austin, Texas, the son of a prominent lawyer, Professor Black majored in Greek as an undergraduate at the University of Texas, where he also received a master's degree in English in 1938. He then enrolled at the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where he did graduate work in Old and Middle English before entering Yale Law School. After earning his LL.B. in 1943, Black served in the Army Air Corps as a teacher and then practiced law for a year with the New York firm of Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Sunderland & Kiendl. He joined the faculty at the Columbia University Law School in 1947.
While a teacher of constitutional law at Columbia, Professor Black wrote legal briefs for the successful 1954 Brown v. Board of Education suit. He also was involved in civil rights cases in the south.
Professor Black came to Yale in 1956 as the Law School's first Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence. He was appointed Sterling Professor of Law in 1975. During his thirty-one-year career at Yale, he authored numerous books, including The People and the Court, The Occasions of Justice, Structure and Relationship in Constitutional Law, The Tides of Power: Conversations on the American Constitution (with Bob Eckhardt), and Decision According to Law. He was also a specialist on maritime law; his book The Law of Admiralty, which he co-authored with Yale Law School classmate Grant Gilmore in 1957, was reissued in 1975 and is still considered a definitive text on the subject. His most recent work, A New Birth of Freedom: Human Rights, Named and Unnamed, was published in 1999.
Professor Black's Impeachment: A Handbook was first published in 1974 during the Watergate scandal and was reissued during the 1999 impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. Of the seventy-five-page handbook, Time magazine said "The measure of [the] book's achievement is that it tells the reader not what to think but what to think about."
An outspoken critic of capital punishment, Professor Black also authored Capital Punishment: The Inevitability of Caprice and Mistake. In a 1983 profile in The Texas Humanist, Black said, "When you let it be known that you're against racism, you immediately meet the nicest people. The same is true of capital punishment."
At Yale Law School, Professor Black taught constitutional law, equity law, admiralty law, law in society, patents, international business law, fraud and mistake, contracts, and torts. He was a popular teacher who was known for keeping the doors to his office open to visitors, even late at night. In Professor Black's obituary in The New York Times, his former student Akhil Amar '84, now the Southmayd Professor of Law at Yale Law School, said, "He was my hero. So many of the great moral issues of the twentieth century seem clear in retrospect, but were quite controversial at the time. He had the moral courage to go against his race, his class, his social circle."
An avid fan of Louis Armstrong, Professor Black held an "Armstrong Evening" at the Law School from the time of the jazz musician's death in 1971. Many of his colleagues and students relished these annual gatherings, at which he would play Armstrong 78 r.p.m records from the 1920s and 1930s. His passion for Armstrong's music became so legendary that Professor Black was among the individuals featured in the recent Ken Burns documentary Jazz: A History of American Music.
In the late 1970s the eclectic law professor starred as Cicero in the Yale Repertory theatre's Julius Caesar and was an understudy for the Rep's production of Ibsen's Wild Duck. He also had a role in a Yale Cabaret production.
Professor Black returned to teaching at Columbia Law School following his retirement from Yale in 1986, when his wife, Barbara Aronstein Black, became dean of Columbia Law. He was adjunct professor of law there until 1999.
Black earned a number of honors for his contributions to law and teaching, including the University of Texas at Austin's Distinguished Alumnus Award and an Award of the Society of American Law Teachers. He was a sought-after lecturer throughout his career. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Maritime Law Association, the American Association of University Professor, the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Elizabethan Club. He was a fellow emeritus of Jonathan Edwards College.
In addition to his wife, Professor Black is survived by two sons, Gavin and David, both of North Brunswick, New Jersey; a daughter, Robin Black of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania; and his brother, Thomas B. Black of San Antonio, Texas.