U.S. Supreme Court judge who tried to correct a racial injustice

Ed. note: Writer Bob Downie brought this 2009 column to our attention noting its relevance in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Oct. 10, 1878, after a lengthy stay that summer at the Ocean View Hotel overlooking the sea at Old Harbor, Malvina Harlan wrote home to a friend in Louisville — one of the earliest “My First Time on Block Island” letters.
She was the wife of John Marshall Harlan of Kentucky, who 10 months earlier was sworn in as a justice of the United States Supreme Court. Before the Civil War he had owned slaves, as had his father before him. During the war, though, he was a hero in the Union Army, rising in his Kentucky regiment to become a general.
The summer after his Supreme Court appointment, following the example of an ever-increasing number of officials from Washington D.C., John and his wife Malvina spent a long summertime vacation on Block Island, far at sea, away from the heat of that hot city.
Both would write during their lifetimes. And both would write about colors, but in wildly opposite ways.
In the afterglow of her visit to Block Island — sent

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