Iconic Americans: Meet Thurgood Marshall, America’s Greatest Legal Mind

Early Life

Meet Thurgood Marshall, the greatest lawyer of the 20th century and America’s first black Supreme Court Justice. Thurgood was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the great grandson of a slave who was born in the Congo and brought over to the United States in the 18th Century. His father William worked as a railway employee handling luggage and assisting passengers board the train, his mother was a teacher. In grade school he was able to persuade his elders to shorten his name from Thoroughgood, to Thurgood, because he did not like spelling the longer version. This an omen of his ability to persuade as an adult.  thurgood_marshall_early_portrait

Thurgood graduated from High School with a B-Average, and enrolled in college at the historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He did not initially take his studies seriously and was suspended for playing pranks on his fellow students. He did however take interest in the debate team, where he became a star opposing the integration of black professors. His classmate Langston Hughes–who became famous in his own right as a poet, activist, novelist, and columnist–described the young Marshall as “rough and ready, loud and wrong.” In September of 1929 he married Vivien Burey, who demanded he take school seriously. Thurgood graduated from Lincoln with honors in humanities.

Marshall wanted to attend school in his hometown at the University of Maryland School of Law, but refused to fill out an application due to the school’s well-known segregation policy. He settled for Howard University School of Law in Washington D.C. where he and his classmates would give the school a reputation as one of the best African American Schools in the nation. At Howard the dean, Charles Hamilton Houston would mentor Thurgood into one of the greatest legal minds in the nation. Thurgood graduated from Howard in 1933 first in his class.

Law Career

Once receiving his wings from Howard, Thurgood shortly began a private practice in Baltimore. When this did not work out for lack of cases, he begun work the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) In 1934 he made his mark in the law school discrimination suit Murray v. Pearson. In this suit he successfully argued against the school he wanted to attend, saying Donald Murray–a student with great credentials–was denied separate by equal treatment when he was denied entrance to the Maryland University School of Law.

Marshall went on to create the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which become independent of the NAACP. With this he raised the money needed to go on an all out war on the “separate but equal” doctrine, which was the precedent held by the Supreme Court, which allowed systemic segregation throughout the nation. Thurgood traveled across the deep south fighting case after case which took on this doctrine. He purposely and brilliantly did this to stack the Supreme Court’s docket with “separate but equal” appeals. Forcing them into taking a case to settle the growing problem with their docket. All of this reached its peak in 1954 in the famous case, Brown v. Board of Education. In this case the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal”–as established in the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson–was not a realistic way to administer public education as it could never truly be “equal.”mtiwnja4njmzota4nti4njuy

While Martin Luther King was creating change through nonviolent protest, Thurgood Marshall was using the system available to him create the legal changes necessary for true equality in America. On June, 13th 1967 he was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Marshall was confirmed by the Senate with an overwhelming majority vote of 69-11. He would serve on this body as Associate Justice until June 28th, 1991 when he was replaced by African American Justice, Clarence Thomas who still serves the position to this day. Thurgood Marshall passed away on January 24th, 1993, after a long distinguished life as the greatest legal mind and agent of change of 20th Century.

(All information and sources for this article can be confirmed through wikipedia.com)



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