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Segregation fighter Robert Carter dies at 94

NEW YORK — Robert L. Carter, a lawyer who was an integral member of the team led by Thurgood Marshall that turned to the courts to battle segregation, has died. He was 94.

Robert L. Carter, second left, joins other attorneys for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.

Carter, who later spent decades on the federal judiciary, died Tuesday morning at a Manhattan hospital after suffering a stroke last week, said his son, John Carter, who is a judge on the New York state bench.

Robert Carter joined Marshall at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Education Fund after leaving military service in 1944.

He worked on a number of anti-segregation cases, the most high-profile of which was Brown v. the Board of Education. In that case, the plaintiffs represented by the NAACP team argued that the system of legal segregation was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in a 1954 decision.

Carter “was always a fighter,” his son said. “I saw through him the kind of progress that one could make in fighting evil through law.”

Carter was born in Florida in 1917 and grew up in Newark, N.J. He entered college at 16 years old, attending Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He went to Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. and then to Columbia University in New York for an advanced legal degree, which he received in 1941.

He then entered the U.S. Army and became a second lieutenant. His experiences with racial hostility in the military only hardened his determination to fight for equality, his son said.

President Richard Nixon nominated Carter to the federal bench in the Southern District of New York in 1972.

His tenure on the bench also had some high-profile episodes. He oversaw the merger between the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association, and in 1979, found in favor of black and Hispanic officers challenging the hiring practices of the New York Police Department.

Carter also is survived by another son, David; a sister, and a grandson.