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News & Town Board Reports (gblist)

Posted on: January 29, 2022

[ARCHIVED] Greenburgh Slice of History

Who wins here, Orenstien or Marshall? Thurgood Marshall’s Connection to Edgemont



Who wins here, Orenstien or Marshall? Thurgood Marshall’s Connection to Edgemont

By: Riley Wentzler & Felicia Barber




It is often said that, “History is written by the victor.” But which victor? History is full of victors and vanquished people. Some people and groups win the battle, but lose the war and others win the war after losing a string of battles.


For example, in the context of the American Revolution, George Washington lost: The Battle of Long Island, The Battle of White Plains, and The Battle of Manhattan, but eventually won the Revolution. In the context of the Civil War, the Confederacy won: The Battle of Bull Run, The Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Chancellorsville, yet lost the war. Finally, in an ironic reversal of fortune, the North’s efforts to better the lives of African-Americans in the South during Reconstruction seemed to be going well in 1865, only to be largely thwarted by 1877. The story of Thurgood Marshall’s connection to Edgemont should make everyone think long and hard about what constitutes “victory” and what constitutes “defeat.”


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Joshua Cockburn (1877-1942)


A War Hero Comes to a New Neighborhood: 


In 1933, a hero of the British Navy during World War I ,and his wife, purchased land in the Edgemont Hills section of in what is today Greenburgh’s Hamlet of Edgemont, but what was then considered part of Scarsdale ( On this land they built a house, which they moved into in 1936 ( For most people this would be the start of a quiet peaceful life.


Unfortunately, for this particular couple, Mr. Joshua Cockburn and his wife Mrs. Pauline Cockburn, a life of peaceful domestic tranquility was not in the cards. Neither was the pomp and fanfare which one might expect to welcome someone with a distinguished naval record to the neighborhood. Mr. Cockburn played an integral role in the Cameroon Campaign, when the allies drove Germany out of its African Colony “Kamerun” in West Africa (


Peace wasn’t meant to be for this couple because apparently even though Mr. and Mrs. Cockburn bought the land, and built the house themselves, they weren’t actually allowed to live in that house.


Trials and Tribulations:


They weren’t allowed to live there because Mr. Cockburn was black and Mrs. Cockburn, though white, was of mixed-raced ancestry. In 1937, Mrs. Marion A. Ridgway sued the couple for breaking the housing covenant. The housing covenant said, “No part of said parcels shall ever be leased, sold, rented, conveyed or given to Negroes or any persons of the Negro race or blood, except that colored servants may be maintained on the premises” (


Mrs. Ridgway asked that an injunction be issued preventing the couple from residing in their home. She was represented by her personal attorney, Morris Orenstien. The Cockburns were represented by the then well known, Arthur Garfield Hays of The American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) and a young, and at that time, unknown African- American lawyer with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P). Mr. Hays who was white was a well-known lawyer, at that time, having risen to prominence for his role in assisting Clarence Darrow at the Scopes Monkey Trial.


Who was Hays’ mysterious unknown young assistant from the N.A.A.C.P? This young unknown African American lawyer was Thurgood Marshall. ( Hays and Marshall argued that the Cockburns weren’t “Negroes” because New York State had no legal definition of the word, Negro.” The suit went all the way to the New York State Supreme Court.


Victory? Or Defeat?


Justice Lee Parsons Davis found Hays and Marshall’s “no definition of negro” argument unconvincing, “There can be no doubt that the defendant is partly “colored.” She considers herself an octoroon; that is, a person with one-eighth Negro-blood. She concedes that she belongs to the “colored race” and has in the past called herself a “colored person.’ Her husband, Joshua Cockburn is concededly a “colored man…. In every outward appearance he is what would be called, in common speech, a Negro.” (


Hays and Marshall were defeated, at least on paper. Mrs. Ridgway was probably feeling very satisfied. Yet the victorious lawyer, Morris Orenstien, was probably not smiling because he like his client, Mrs. Ridgway, knew an appeal was coming. He also knew something his client did not know.


Hays and Marshall were defeated, but judgements in civil suits are non-binding, unless, the winning lawyer asks for a court order enforcing the ruling. Morris Orenstien didn’t do that because he was certain that Hays and Marshall would appeal the verdict ( Morris Orenstien knew, that his client did not know, was that Hays and Marshall would certainly present new arguments when doing so, and that if they presented an argument based on the 14th amendment, they would probably win. As a result, the Cockburns remained in their home until Pauline Cockburn moved to Rhode Island and passed away in 1967, despite losing the case (


Thurgood Marshall must have learned something from this 1937 case because he went on to win most of the cases he argued in his time with the NA.A.C.P including: Chambers v. Florida (1940), Smith v. Allwright (1944), Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), and Sweatt v. Painter (1950) (Finkelman ,Paul in MICROSOFT ENCARTA, 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation). He was then appointed to the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, and to the United States Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. This made him the first African American ever on the United States Supreme Court (Finkelman, Paul in MICROSOFT ENCARTA, 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation).




In conclusion, The Cockburn’s were victims of cruel racial discrimination. In 1937, their case, in which they were partially represented by none other than Thurgood Marshall, went before the New York State Supreme Court. The judge ruled against them. But, they were still able to stay in their home. So, did they win or lose? Who is the victor here? That is up to you, our readers, to decide.






Previous Slices of History include:












































































About the Authors:


We are both Assistant Town Historians at Greenburgh Town Hall and we are engaged to be married and are currently looking for permanent employment.


Riley Wentzler:

I was born and raised in a small rural town in central Pennsylvania. In high school, I took every honors course available including four years of Spanish. I received A’s in all of them. I graduated third in my class of 146 students. This brought me to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Once there, I continued my trend of academic excellence. I graduated summa cum laude in Political Science with a minor in Spanish and a Master’s in Communication Studies, with a G.P.A of 3.94. It was also there that I met my lovely fiancée, Felicia Barber. My Master’s in Communication has promoted public speaking, teamwork, and customer service. My Political Science degree has developed my research skills using computer-based tools and provided me with experience using the Microsoft Office products. My minor in Spanish has facilitated my bilingual capabilities. During my internship at Greenburgh, I created the petition for the State Roads project using website tools. My diverse education and areas of interest have provided me with a wide range of skills. I look forward to finding a career opportunity in business or government. To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at assistanthistorian@greenburghny.comor to help me find employment, you can contact me at 


Felicia Barber:

I was born in New York City and raised in Hartsdale, New York. I graduated from Ardsley High School. I recently earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. It was here that I met my fiancé, Riley Wentzler. As a result of my academic excellence, I won a scholarship every year. I learned and applied many graphic design skills to projects during my summer internships and at school. I am proficient in using Adobe graphic design applications including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. For my Identity/branding course at Edinboro, I created logos to appear on the tee-shirts of Physical Education majors. For a veteran’s upcoming event, I used a typeface to focus the reader to the soldier in the poster. For the State Roads Legislative Campaign project, I created the embedded graphic-photo that accompanied the petition I am looking for a job to utilize my skills as a Graphic Designer in an agency, print shop, company or government To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at assistanthistorian@greenburghny.comTo learn more about my artwork or to help me find employment you can contact me at



Two Interviews with the authors:





Bethel, N. (2013, March 3). Thomas Quirk writes: The Cockburn Trial and Northern Jim Crow. Retrieved from NICOLETTE BETHEL STILL HERE:


Finkelman, P in Microsoft Encarta. (1993-2003, (Not Given) (Not Given)). Encarta Encyclopedia. Redmond, Washington,United States of America


Quirk, T. (2013 , March 2). The Cockburn Legacy and Northern Jim Crow. Retrieved from The Secret History of Scarsdale:


Quirk, T. (2016, October 24). Of Realtors and Racism. Retrieved from Tom Quirk:

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