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Lawyer Spotlight on Thurgood Marshall

Intro

Thurgood Marshall was one of the most famous lawyers in U.S. history. His illustrious career comprised many different roles, ultimately leading him to become the first African-American to become a Justice of the US Supreme Court. Marshall is most famous, perhaps, for his landmark victory as a lawyer in the notable case of Brown v. Board of Education. Thurgood Marshall was a crucial part of the equal rights movement in the United States of America.

Early Life

Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, MD to William and Norma Marshall. His father worked as a railroad porter and his mother was a teacher. Most notably, however, was Thurgood Marshall's great-grandfather; a slave from what today is known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Growing up, Marshall's family instilled in him strong values of law and the US Constitution.

Thurgood Marshall: Pioneer in Civil Rights
Brief Biography of Thurgood Marshall -PDF
Leaders & Statesmen: Thurgood Marshall

Education

Following his high school education, Thurgood Marshall attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1925. Lincoln University was well known at the time for being a black institution. Lincoln would also come to be known as a school that shaped the minds of future Black leaders. During his time at the college, Marshall rubbed shoulders with Langston Hughes and Kwame Nkrumah (future President of Ghana). He graduated Cum Laude in 1930 and then applied to the University of Maryland Law School. Marshall was denied admittance due to a segregation policy at the school. The decision would ultimately become a driving force for Marshall's future career. In 1933, Marshall graduated first in his class from Howard University School of Law. During his studies at Howard, Marshall was under the influence of Charles Hamilton Huston, the dean who believed in applying the principles of the US Constitution to all US Citizens. Huston also had a strong desire to overturn the “separate but equal” doctrine established by the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson . After graduating from Howard, Huston continued to be a driving force in Marshall's career.

Lincoln University: A Legacy of Producing Leaders
Charles Hamilton Houston

Career

In 1933, Thurgood Marshall set up his own private law practice in Baltimore. By 1934, he was working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), working his way up to assistant special counsel for the organization in 1936.

In his early career, Marshall worked on many civil rights cases. His first victory happened in 1935 on the decision of Murray v. Pearson, which he co-counseled with Charles Huston . One notable thing about the case was that it challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine, something that no court case had previously done. In the instance of Murray v. Pearson , Marshall argued that it was unconstitutional for Black students to be denied admittance to the University of Maryland Law School because there was no University of law that equaled its quality. It was a both a huge professional and personal victory for Thurgood Marshall. The victory however, only stood in the state of Maryland, but the wheels had been set in motion for the issue to be eventually reopened in the Supreme Court. During his career, Marshall accomplished many notable goals. The most significant positions he held are listed below.

Thurgood Marshall Law Cases
Donald Gaines Murray and the Integration of the University of Maryland School of Law

Chief Council for the NAACP

1940 was a big year for Thurgood Marshall. He won his first US Supreme Court case on the decision of Chambers v. Florida , and was appointed as the Chief Counsel for the NAACP. During his time with the NAACP, Marshall would be one of the major advocates for civil rights, winning 29 out of 32 Supreme Court cases, many of them dealing with racial equality issues. The most famous case Marshall won in his career was the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka , rendering the “separate but equal” doctrine in public education completely obsolete.

The Story Behind Brown v. Board of Education
The NAACP's Legal Strategy Against Segregated Education

United States Court of Appeals & Solicitor General

In 1961, Thurgood Marshall was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to the Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals. During his time in Appeals, he was responsible for penning more than 150 decisions, supporting immigration rights, reducing government involvement in illegal search and seizure cases, and privacy rights. Marshall held that position until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson promoted Marshall to the post of United States Solicitor General. The Solicitor General is the person in charge of representing the Federal Government in cases brought to the Supreme Court; a very high honor indeed. Marshall became the first African-American to serve that post. He was a very successful Solicitor General, winning 14 out of 19 cases, more than any other before him.

About the Office: Solicitor General

Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court

It is not easy to become a Supreme Court Justice. One must be nominated for the position by the incumbent President of the United States and then voted into the office by members of the Senate. Once the post given, it is given for life. In 1967, Tom C. Clark retired his post at Justice of the Court and on June 13th of that year, Thurgood Marshall was nominated by President Johnson to fill the vacancy. On August 30, 1967, the Senate voted Marshall as the 96 th person to ever be elected to the Supreme Court by a vote of 69-11. He was also the first African-American person to ever serve as an Associate Justice. Marshall spent 24 years on the Supreme Court, advocating for individual rights protection against the government. One of Marshall's major positions on the Court opposed the death penalty. In 1991, Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court, replaced by Clarence Thomas.

Thurgood Marshall: Supreme Court Justice
Today in History: October 2

Legacy

On January 24, 1993, Thurgood Marshall died of heart failure, leaving behind an incredible legacy. All of his personal notes and papers were donated to the Library of Congress so that the public could have use of them. There are many monuments dedicated to his memory, as well as many educational institutions throughout the country. The University of Maryland School of Law, the school that once rejected Thurgood Marshall, opened a new law library in 1980, and named it for him. Thurgood Marshall will always be remembered as a pioneer of the equal rights movement. His work helped ensure equality for all people in the United States.

Civil Rights Walk of Fame
Honoring Justice Thurgood Marshall
FBI Records: The Vault