Transcript of video clip from Henry Marsh oral history interview

Cassandra Newby-Alexander: Now just in looking over some of the early cases, like the Prince Edward County ’62, and you were involved with the Portsmouth case in late ’68, ’69, and the Norfolk case and so forth, of those cases which ones were the most frustrating to you and why, and which ones were the most perhaps challenging or rewarding cases?

Henry L. Marsh: Well I don’t think I was ever frustrated. I think Norfolk took nineteen years. We would lose the case before Judge Hoffman and we would appeal and they would send it back down for him to do the right thing and be tried again on the remand. He’d rule against us and we’d take it back up again, we’d win the case and they’d send it back, and that kept on till one year the Justice Department sent Judge Hoffman [Walter E. Hoffman] out to Nevada to try a criminal case and he wasn’t there so the case was assigned to Judge MacKenzie [John A. MacKenzie]. So we got each school integrated to the fifty-eight percent white, forty-two percent black, each faculty desegregated, got free transportation for the kids, and when Judge Hoffman came back he called me into his chamber. We had litigated it each year for nineteen years. He said, “Mr. Marsh, you tricked me.” That’s the way he talked, “You tricked me.” I said, “What do you mean, sir?” He said, “You caught me out of town and you got these schools desegregated.” I said, “No, sir. I thought you were going to be here.” I said, “I didn’t realize you weren’t going to be here. I thought sure I had you. That wasn’t my doing.” He said, “Well you did it. It took a long time but you did it.” I said, “Well yes, sir. That’s my job.”
I think over the years he developed a respect for me—even though we were opponents we were friendly opponents—because I would challenge him every step of the way. I sort of think he was paying back the community for ordering the African Americans entered in the ’50s when school desegregation first came. He ordered them to admit some black students, and it wasn’t a whole lot of them, but he got criticized and socially ostracized, I guess, for that. So after he had earned his good points by doing that one deed I think he took it on himself to make sure that he held the line after that, and I was determined that the schools would be desegregated.