Homer Plessy Day and a New Letter By and an Article About Brandeis

07Jun11

Here are three items about Louis D. Brandeis and John Marshall Harlan that I found out about during the last 24 hours:

Today (June 7) is Homer Plessy Day. It was 119 years ago today that Homer Plessy bought a train ticket and sat in an all white train car–events that eventually led to Harlan’s famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson. Plessy Day was named an official holiday in New Orleans due to the efforts of the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation, a foundation created by the descendents of both Plessy and Ferguson and dedicated to advancing civil rights. The Washington Post has an interesting article about how Keith Plessy, the great-grandson of Homer Plessy’s first cousin, and Phoebe Ferguson, the great-great-granddaughter of Judge John Howard Ferguson, met and formed the foundation.

Attorney Katherine A. Helm takes a look at the allegations made against Brandeis’ ethics during his conformation hearings in her article “What Justice Brandeis Taught Us About Conflicts of Interest” (Fall 2010 issue of The Journal of the Legal Profession, pages 1-23) and asks if being a “lawyer to the situation” is possible any more.

Attorney Richard S. Gordon of Quinn, Gordon and Wolf in Towson, Maryland is another Brandeis fan and has a small collection of letters written by Brandeis. He called me yesterday to tell me about his latest acquisition, a letter that is not reprinted in Urofsky and Levy’s collection of letters.  It is an October 4, 1918 letter to soprano Alma Gluck, regarding a recording she made of the song Hatikva with her husband, violinist Efrem Zimbalist. Gluck and Zimbalist were famous performers of their day. Nowadays they are primarily remembered for being the parents of actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and the grandparents of actress Stephanie Zimbalist. Hatikva is now Israel’s national anthem, but even in 1918, the song was popular with Zionists. Hence, Brandeis’ letter:

Oct 4/18

 My Dear Mrs. Zimbalist:

             I have just received from the Victor Company your letter of the 29th and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the record.  You and Mr. Zimbalist have performed a great service to the cause.

            I venture to suggest that you write a letter to the President  and send it to me, so that it may be delivered with the record.  This will give him far more pleasure, than if they went to him with a note from me.

            I will hold the record awaiting your letter to the President.

            With most Cordial Greetings to Mr. Zimbalist.

                                    Sincerely,

                                    Louis D. Brandeis

I can’t find any information on what President Wilson thought of the record, but you can hear it for yourself on YouTube.

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