Associate Justice Hugo La Fayette Black, 76, last week completed his 25th term on the U.S. Supreme Court in the same way that he began his court career—in the center of a storm. To his admirers, Black is a judicial hero, forever fighting on behalf of individual liberties. To his critics, he is an archvillain seeking to subvert national institutions. As time passes, it is apparent that the extremists on both sides have forgotten many of the facts about what and who Hugo Black really is.

The son of a small farmer, later a storekeeper, in rural Harlan, Ala., Black had little...

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