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​Thurgood Marshall - Brown v. Board of Education 


​1st Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall   1908 - 1993









When Thurgood Marshall was appointed and confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, another page in history was recorded.  He was the first Black to be elevated to this position.  Reaching a position on the highest court in the nation culminated an illustrious legal career that had seen him successfully argue landmark cases that altered the racial fabric of America.

Thurgood was born on July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, the son of Norma, a schoolteacher, and William Canfield Marshall.  He attended public schools in Baltimore and earned his bachelor's degree, cum laude, from Lincoln University in 1930.  At first, he planned to study dentistry, but he switched his sights to law because of his father's insistence on logic and proof, pointed Marshall into a legal career.

​Thurgood Marshall enrolled at Howard University in the pre-law program, after being denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because of his race.  This incident would later haunt the university.  While at Howard, Marshall's civil rights thinking was shaped by a noted lawyer.  Charles Houston, and a group of legal scholars concerned with the civil rights litigation.

In 1933, Marshall graduated from law school, magna cum laude, and subsequently passed the Maryland bar exam and began practicing law in his hometown of Baltimore.  In 1929, he married Viven G. Burney.  Marshall's clients were poor and often unable to pay his fee.  He became known as "the  little man's lawyer," believing that the Constitution "was designed for the least as well as the greatest Americans."

Marshall's legal activity was immediately tested, when he became counsel for the Baltimore branch of the NAACP. In 1938, he became special counsel for the NAACP.  He argued the case of Sweatt v. Painter, ​ resulting in the ordering of the University of Texas Law School to admit Blacks.  Because of Marshall's own experience, he successfully fought the case with a particular zeal.

While serving as the NAACP's legal counsel, he added another dimension to his civil rights agenda when he co-founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.  There, he and a group of lawyers, won 32 of the 35 cases they brought before the Supreme Court.  By this time, Marshall had earned the well-deserved nickname, "Mr. Civil Rights."

In the 1950s, Marshall was dispatched to Korea to investigate charges that the Army was discriminating against Blacks.  Until 1964, Marshall continued to argue cases that had legal reverberations nationwide. Smith v. Allwright (1944) established voting rights for Blacks.  Morgan v. Virginia (1946) outlawed the state's segregation of interstate buses.  Shelley v. Kramer (1948) barred restrictive covenants in housing.  But his most celebrated case was Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ​(1954), which removed the legal basis for segregation in public schools.

Marshall began his journey up the federal judicial ladder on September 23, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy nominated him as a judge of the Second Court of Appeals.  Three years later, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him Solicitor General, the first Black to ever hold this post.  This position set the stage for his nomination as associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1967, by President Johnson.  After Senate confirmation, he joined this revered body as part of the liberal group of justices.  Marshall worked on behalf of the economically, politically and legally deprived.

Thurgood Marshall, who waited tables to get through law school, and who grew into one of the country's best legal brains, was a feared antagonist to his legal opponents.  For his tireless work in effecting positive change, he has been the recipient of a host of honors, most notably the NAACP's  Spingarn Medal (1946). "My commitments," he once said, "have always been to justice for all people, regardless of race, creed or color."  On January 24, 1993, Thurgood Marshall died, but his efforts remain as a constant reminder of the work ahead.


Excerpt from A Salute to Historic Black Firsts.


This is only a summary of the life of Thurgood Marshall.