Hugo Black , in full Hugo La Fayette Black (born February 27, 1886, Harlan, Clay county, Alabama, U.S.—died September 25, 1971, Bethesda, Maryland), lawyer, politician, and associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1937–71). Black’s legacy as a Supreme Court justice derives from his support of the doctrine of total incorporation, according to which the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States makes the Bill of Rights—originally adopted to limit the power of the national government—equally restrictive on the power of the states to curtail individual freedom.
Hugo Black was the youngest of eight children of William La Fayette Black, a poor farmer, and Martha Toland Black. He enrolled in Birmingham (Alabama) Medical School in 1903 but transferred after one year to study law at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. After graduating and passing the bar in 1906, Black practiced law in Birmingham. Appointed a part-time police-court judge in 1911, he fought against the unfair treatment of African Americans and the poor by the local criminal-justice system; as a lawyer, he also represented striking miners and other industrial labourers. His popularity encouraged him to seek political office, and in 1914 he was elected prosecuting attorney for Jefferson county.
After serving in the U.S. Army (1917–19) during World War I, Black resumed the practice of law in Birmingham. His successful defense of a Protestant minister accused of killing a Roman Catholic priest drew the favourable attention of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and in 1923 Black joined the organization. Although he openly opposed the Klan’s activities, he understood that its support was a prerequisite for political success in the Deep South. Therefore, even after his resignation from the KKK in 1925, he maintained good relations with its leaders.
Elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 1926, Black won considerable acclaim for his investigation of utility lobbyists but was criticized for his opposition to the