Robert L. Carter, recruited by Thurgood Marshall as an original member of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and a key strategist in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case that overturned segregation in the nation’s public schools, died Jan. 3 in Manhattan from complications of a stroke. He was 94.

Carter, a retired federal judge in New York, was a noted activist and lawyer during the Civil Rights Movement who advocated for equal rights for Black Americans.

As a child, Carter skipped two grades in the Newark and East Orange, New Jersey public schools and graduated from high school at age 16 in 1933. He graduated magna cum laude with a degree in political science from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, earned a law degree from Howard University and a master’s in law from Columbia Law School.

It was his master’s thesis that helped define the NAACP’s strategy on the First Amendment right to freedom of association.

After Columbia, Carter was drafted into the United States Army Air Corps, serving in a segregated unit during World War II. In 1944, after his discharge, he joined the Legal Defense Fund as an assistant to Marshall, attacking racism and segregation in colleges, labor unions, voting laws, housing and hiring practices.

But it was Carter’s convincing argument that the segregation of public schools was unconstitutional on its face that ultimately persuaded the Supreme Court to reach the same conclusion in Brown vs. Board, ending the “separate but equal” doctrine that had been the law of the land for half a century.

It also was Mr. Carter who persuaded the legal team to use the research of psychologist Kenneth B. Clark, and the now famous “doll test” to attack segregated schools – a move considered both daring and dangerous at the time.

Mr. Carter left the defense fund in protest when Marshall chose White staff lawyer Jack Greenberg to succeed him as director-counsel of the fund. Carter moved over to the NAACP as its general counsel. He left the civil rights organization in 1968, also in protest, when its board fired a White staff member.

In later years as a federal judge, Carter presided over the merger of the NBA and ABA professional basketball leagues in the 1970s, Oscar Robertson’s class-action antitrust suit against the NBA and was instrumental in opening the New York City police force to more minority applicants.

His wife, Gloria, died in 1971. He is survived by his sons, John and David; a daughter, Sharon Lockhart; a sister, Alma Carter Lawson and a grandson.