When I was younger and wanted to be a lawyer, it was Thurgood Marshall who inspired me, especially when I found out that the reason I could go to an integrated school was because he had chosen to fight the case of segregation. I wasn't restricted to a third-rate education because someone was tossing down the old, broken, tattered, remains of textbooks to the "Negro schools" as they once had. I went to school with children of all races, used the same textbooks they did, and received the same education as them. I learned more and more about him as I got older but even as a child he inspired me to take on causes greater than myself, to fight against injustice using the law, and that sometimes the law is just wrong and so it's up to us to see it changed.
|Born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908, Thurgood Marshall was the grandson of a slave. His father, William Marshall, instilled in him from youth an appreciation for the United States Constitution and the rule of law. After completing high school in 1925, Thurgood followed his brother, William Aubrey Marshall, at the historically black Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. His classmates at Lincoln included a distinguished group of future Black leaders such as the poet and author Langston Hughes, the future President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, and musician Cab Calloway. Just before graduation, he married his first wife, Vivian "Buster" Burey. Their twenty-five year marriage ended with her death from cancer in 1955.|
A child born to a Black mother in a state like Mississippi... has exactly the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States. It's not true, but I challenge anyone to say it is not a goal worth working for.
|In 1930, he applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but was denied admission because he was Black. This was an event that was to haunt him and direct his future professional life. Thurgood sought admission and was accepted at the Howard University Law School that same year and came under the immediate influence of the dynamic new dean, Charles Hamilton Houston, who instilled in all of his students the desire to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans. Paramount in Houston's outlook was the need to overturn the 1898 Supreme Court ruling, Plessy v. Ferguson which established the legal doctrine called, "separate but equal." Marshall's first major court case came in 1933 when he successfully sued the University of Maryland to admit a young African American Amherst University graduate named Donald Gaines Murray. Applauding Marshall's victory, author H.L. Mencken wrote that the decision of denial by the University of Maryland Law School was "brutal and absurd," and they should not object to the "presence among them of a self-respecting and ambitious young Afro-American well prepared for his studies by four years of hard work in a class A college."|
Thurgood Marshall followed his Howard University mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston to New York and later became Chief Counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). During this period, Mr. Marshall was asked by the United Nations and the United Kingdom to help draft the constitutions of the emerging African nations of Ghana and what is now Tanzania. It was felt that the person who so successfully fought for the rights of America's oppressed minority would be the perfect person to ensure the rights of the White citizens in these two former European colonies. After amassing an impressive record of Supreme Court challenges to state-sponsored discrimination, including the landmark Brown v. Board decision in 1954, President John F. Kennedy appointed Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In this capacity, he wrote over 150 decisions including support for the rights of immigrants, limiting government intrusion in cases involving illegal search and seizure, double jeopardy, and right to privacy issues. Biographers Michael Davis and Hunter Clark note that, "none of his (Marshall's) 98 majority decisions was ever reversed by the Supreme Court." In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson appointed Judge Marshall to the office of U.S. Solicitor General. Before his subsequent nomination to the United States Supreme Court in 1967, Thurgood Marshall won 14 of the 19 cases he argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the government. Indeed, Thurgood Marshall represented and won more cases before the United States Supreme Court than any other American.
Until his retirement from the highest court in the land, Justice Marshall established a record for supporting the voiceless American. Having honed his skills since the case against the University of Maryland, he developed a profound sensitivity to injustice by way of the crucible of racial discrimination in this country. As an Associate Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall leaves a legacy that expands that early sensitivity to include all of America's voiceless. Justice Marshall died on January 24, 1993.
A Thurgood Marshall timeline: provided by A Deeper Shade of Black .
Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland. His father, William Marshall, the grandson of a slave, worked as a steward at an exclusive club. His mother, Norma, was a kindergarten teacher. One of William Marshall's favorite pastimes was to listen to cases at the local courthouse before returning home to rehash the lawyers' arguments with his sons. Thurgood Marshall later recalled, "Now you want to know how I got involved in law? I don't know. The nearest I can get is that my dad, my brother, and I had the most violent arguments you ever heard about anything. I guess we argued five out of seven nights at the dinner table."
Marshall attended Baltimore's Colored High and Training School (later renamed Frederick Douglass High School), where he was an above-average student and put his finely honed skills of argument to use as a star member of the debate team. The teenaged Marshall was also something of a mischievous troublemaker. His greatest high school accomplishment, memorizing the entire United States Constitution, was actually a teacher's punishment for misbehaving in class.
After graduating from high school in 1926, Marshall attended Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania. There, he joined a remarkably distinguished student body that included Kwame Nkrumah, the future president of Ghana; Langston Hughes, the great poet; and Cab Calloway, the famous jazz singer.
“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”
― Thurgood Marshall
After graduating from Lincoln with honors in 1930, Marshall applied to the University of Maryland Law School. Despite being overqualified academically, Marshall was rejected because of his race. This firsthand experience with discrimination in education made a lasting impression on Marshall and helped determine the future course of his career. Instead of Maryland, Marshall attended law school in Washington, D.C. at Howard University, another historically black school. The dean of Howard Law School at the time was the pioneering civil rights lawyer Charles Houston. Marshall quickly fell under the tutelage of Houston, a notorious disciplinarian and extraordinarily demanding professor. Marshall recalled of Houston, "He would not be satisfied until he went to a dance on the campus and found all of his students sitting around the wall reading law books instead of partying." Marshall graduated magna cum laude from Howard in 1933.
After graduating from law school, Marshall briefly attempted to establish his own practice in Baltimore, but without experience he failed to land any significant cases.
In 1934, he began working for the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In one of Marshall's first cases—which he argued alongside his mentor, Charles Houston—he defended another well-qualified undergraduate, Donald Murray, who like himself had been denied entrance to the University of Maryland Law School. Marshall and Houston won Murray v. Pearson in January 1936, the first in a long string of cases designed to undermine the legal basis for de jure racial segregation in the United States.
“What is the quality of your intent? Certain people have a way of saying things that shake us at the core. Even when the words do not seem harsh or offensive, the impact is shattering. What we could be experiencing is the intent behind the words. When we intend to do good, we do. When we intend to do harm, it happens. What each of us must come to realize is that our intent always comes through. We cannot sugarcoat the feelings in our heart of hearts. The emotion is the energy that motivates. We cannot ignore what we really want to create. We should be honest and do it the way we feel it. What we owe to ourselves and everyone around is to examine the reasons of our true intent. My intent will be evident in the results."
Later in 1936, Marshall moved to New York City to work full time as legal counsel for the NAACP. Over the following decades, Marshall argued and won a variety of cases to strike down many forms of legalized racism, helping to inspire the American Civil Rights Movement. Marshall's first victory before the Supreme Court came in Chambers v. Florida (1940), in which he successfully defended four black men who had been convicted of murder on the basis of confessions coerced from them by police. Another crucial Supreme Court victory came in the 1944 case of Smith v. Allwright, in which the Court struck down the Democratic Party's use of whites-only primary elections in various Southern states.
However, the great achievement of Marshall's career as a civil-rights lawyer was his victory in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of black parents in Topeka, Kansas on behalf of their children forced to attend all-black segregated schools. Through Brown v. Board, one of the most important cases of the 20th century, Marshall challenged head-on the legal underpinning of racial segregation, the doctrine of "separate but equal" established by the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," and therefore racial segregation of public schools violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. While enforcement of the Court's ruling proved to be uneven and painfully slow, Brown v. Board provided the legal foundation, and much of the inspiration, for the American Civil Rights Movement that unfolded over the next decade. At the same time, the case established Marshall as one of the most successful and prominent lawyers in America.
In 1961, then-newly elected President John F. Kennedy appointed Thurgood Marshall as a judge for the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Serving as a circuit court judge over the next four years, Marshall issued more than 100 decisions, none of which was overturned by the Supreme Court. Then, in 1965, Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, appointed Marshall to serve as the first black U.S. solicitor general, the attorney designated to argue on behalf of the federal government before the Supreme Court.
During his two years as solicitor general, Marshall won 14 of the 19 cases that he argued before the Supreme Court.
Finally, in 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to serve on the bench before which he had successfully argued so many times before—the United States Supreme Court. On October 2, 1967, Marshall was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, becoming the first African American to serve on the nation's highest court.
Marshall joined a liberal Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, which aligned with Marshall's views on politics and the Constitution. As a Supreme Court justice, Marshall consistently supported rulings upholding a strong protection of individual rights and liberal interpretations of controversial social issues. He was part of the majority that ruled in favor of the right to abortion in the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, among several other cases. In the 1972 case Furman v. Georgia, which led to a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, Marshall articulated his opinion that the death penalty was unconstitutional in all circumstances.
"change the way I see the world."
Throughout Marshall's 24-year tenure on the Court, Republican presidents appointed eight consecutive justices, and Marshall gradually became an isolated liberal member of an increasingly conservative Court. For the latter part of his time on the bench, Marshall was largely relegated to issuing strongly worded dissents, as the Court reinstated the death penalty and limited affirmative action measures and abortion rights. Marshall retired from the Supreme Court in 1991; Justice Clarence Thomas replaced him.
Thurgood Marshall died on January 24, 1993, at the age of 84.
Thurgood Marshall stands alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as one of the greatest and most important figures of the American Civil Rights Movement. And although he may be the least popularly celebrated of the three, Marshall was arguably the most instrumental in the movement's achievements toward racial equality. Marshall's strategy of attacking racial inequality through the courts represented a third way of pursuing racial equality, more pragmatic than King's soaring rhetoric and less polemical than Malcolm X's strident separatism. In the aftermath of Marshall's death, an obituary read: "We make movies about Malcolm X, we get a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, but every day we live with the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall."
Marshall married Vivian "Buster" Burey in 1929, and the couple remained married until her death in 1955. Shortly thereafter, Marshall married Cecilia Suyat, his secretary at the NAACP; they had two sons, Thurgood Jr. and John Marshall.
(*Thurgood Marshall. [Internet]. 2014. The Biography Channel website. Available from:http://www.biography.com/people/thurgood-marshall-9400241 [Accessed 04 Feb 2014].*)
Be aware of that myth, that everything is going to be all right. Don't give in. I add that, because it seems to me, that what we need to do today is to refocus. Back in the 30's and 40's, we could go no place but to court. We knew then, the court was not the final solution. Many of us knew the final solution would have to be politics, if for no other reason, politics is cheaper than lawsuits. So now we have both. We have our legal arm, and we have our political arm. Let's use them both. And don't listen to this myth that it can be solved by either or that it has already been solved. Take it from me, it has not been solved.