Suitts, Steve 1949-

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Suitts, Steve 1949-


Born 1949, in AL.


Home—Atlanta, GA.


Writer, historian, educator, biographer, civil libertarian, and executive. Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, founder; Southern Regional Council, director; Southern Education Foundation, Atlanta, GA, administrator; Emory University, Atlanta, instructor.


Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution, NewSouth Books (Montgomery, AL), 2005.


Author, historian, and biographer Steve Suitts is a native of Alabama. There, he founded the Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and served for twenty years as the director of the Southern Regional Council. An educator, Suitts is now a resident of Atlanta, Georgia, where he works for the Southern Education Foundation and teaches at Emory University.

A historian of the American South, Suitts "believes that the South is in the early stages of an extraordinary transition," commented Jacob Levenson in the Columbia Journalism Review. The region is still feeling and assessing the effects of the social and political changes that occurred in the middle and later years of the twenty-first century, when racial equality and civil rights became paramount, and long-entrenched attitudes throughout the southern states were challenged and, in many cased, overturned. Suitts related to Levenson that "we're only beginning to understand what the South is as a society. It's been not quite forty years since the Voting Rights Act gave all southerners an opportunity to participate in the electoral process. The region is seeing a tremendous influx of both blacks and whites. Its Hispanic population is rapidly growing. And native southerners are moving within the region." Despite these dramatic changes in demographics, the South still retains its unique identity, Levenson observed, but even so, "it's a place that even southerners, a group who on the whole are perhaps the most casually eloquent and regionally evangelistic Americans, find themselves at a loss for words to describe." Even Southerners, Suitts notes, no longer know what to make of the South.

Suitts is the author of an in-depth work of Southern biography, Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution. In this work, Suitts "relates in depth how the extremely ambitious youngest son of a drunk from rural Alabama used his talents and social connections for both civic good and personal success until eventu- ally he won election to the Senate," commented Richard A. Brisbin, Jr., in the Law and Politics Book Review. What Suitts provides, Brisbin further remarked, "is far and away the most thorough recounting of the experiences of any justice before he or she entered federal government service."

Black was an attorney and trial lawyer who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1927 and was later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Franklin Roosevelt in 1937. In his book, Suitts explores Black's early personal and professional life in detail, and analyzes the sometimes conflicting political dynamics of Alabama and the forces that shaped Black's political affiliations, legal theories, social concerns, and general attitudes. In this atmosphere, Black became a supporter of prohibition, perhaps owing to his alcoholic father; a strong supporter of fairness in the legal system; a champion for those who were abused or exploited; and a proponent of racial equality.

One particularly controversial element of Suitts's biography is his coverage of Black's membership in the notorious white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan. Few can doubt the malignant motives of this organization, but Suitts cautions against judging the KKK or Hugo Black's involvement with it by twenty-first-century standards. "Black joined the Ku Klux Klan because of the interpersonal and business contacts and friendships it provided, not because of its racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic program," Brisbin reported. A Fresh Fiction Web site reviewer observed that "in the context of Alabama and Birmingham in the early 1920s," Black's decision to join the KKK "was politically progressive and personally ethical," and not a matter of racist, anti-Catholic, or hateful attitudes in the man. Journal of Southern History reviewer Karl Rodabaugh noted that the Birmingham, Alabama, chapter of the Klan, which Black joined, was not a violent part of the group, in contrast to other KKK chapters of the time. In short, "One of Suitts's most significant contributions is his superb handling of Black's KKK membership" and what it meant at the time, Rodabaugh stated.

Brisbin concluded, "Suitts still has produced an impressive piece of scholarship that illuminates not only the education of a justice but almost forgotten harshness and brutality of Southern law and politics in the age before Hugo Black joined the Supreme Court."



Alabama Review, October, 2007, Howard Ball, review of Hugo Black of Alabama: How His Roots and Early Career Shaped the Great Champion of the Constitution, p. 302.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries December 1, 2005, R.J. Steamer, review of Hugo Black of Alabama, p. 728.

Columbia Journalism Review, March-April, 2004, Jacob Levenson, "Dividing Dixie."

Journal of Southern History, November, 2006, Karl Rodabaugh, review of Hugo Black of Alabama, p. 981.

Journal of Supreme Court History, November, 2006, D. Grier Stephenson, Jr., review of Hugo Black of Alabama, p. 298.

Law and Politics Book Review, September, 2005, Richard A. Brisbin, Jr., review of Hugo Black of Alabama, p. 890.

Library Journal, July 1, 2005, Theodore Pollack, review of Hugo Black of Alabama, p. 95.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2006, review of Hugo Black of Alabama.


Fresh Fiction, (May 28, 2008), biography of Steve Suitts; review of Hugo Black of Alabama.