Thurgood Marshall was born in 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland to William Marshall who worked as a railroad porter and mother an elementary school teacher. He was initially named Thoroughgood changed it to Thurgood. His grandfather was a slave. From an early age, his father aroused his interest in the law. His interest in law saw him studying law and later rising to become a Supreme Court judge. He married twice after his first wife Vivian Burey died in 1955 and his second wife Cecilia Suyat in 1955 December (Frost 5).
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Marshall went to Baltimore’s segregated colored high school called Fredrick Douglass high school and later joined Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, which was predominantly black. He wanted to join the University of Maryland Law School in 1930. However, he was denied the opportunity because he was black. This, however, did not deter him and he applied for admission at the Howard University Law School. At the law school, he met dean Charles Hamilton Houston who was influential in his students’ academics as he “instilled in all of his students the desire to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans” (Thurgood Marshall College 1). The segregation policy also shaped his career path as he chose to fight against it and ensure that all people regardless of their skin color were treated equally.
After graduating from Howard University Law School, he went into private practice. “A year later, he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) where he joined his former dean Houston” (Friedman 1). NAACP fought against discrimination and segregation. Segregation had been upheld in the ruling in the case Plessy v. Furgerson that stated that “separate but equal” facilities fulfilled the “equal protection” standard (Friedman 1). Therefore, Marshall and Houston worked very hard “to overturn the Plessey decision in the U.S courts” (Friedman 2). Working in partnership with Houston, he fought against segregation. He was victorious in the case Murray vs. Pearson. Murray the plaintiff won and was allowed to join the University of Maryland Law School. This was a major success even though it did not apply all over the country. However, it was a sweet victory for Thurgood Marshall who had been denied admission to the University as it had a segregation policy.
In 1940, “he was appointed as the director of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and held that position until 1960” (Thurgood Marshall Further Readings 1). He used this opportunity to further his fight against segregation that existed in education. This saw him file many lawsuits against schools that banned African American students (Thurgood Marshall Further Readings 1). One of the laws suits that standouts in Marshall’s career were the “Brown v. Board of education of Topeka Kansas, 347 U.S.483,7 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954)” (Thurgood Marshall Further Readings 1). The ruling was paramount as it abolished the policy of separate but equal and gave an opportunity to African American students to attend all public schools and this changed the landscape of education forever.
Marshall started his service in the federal government in the year 1961 during this year he was appointed to serve in the court of Appeals, 2nd circuit. “In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him U.S. Solicitor General he was to argue cases for the government” (Friedman 9). In 1967, he made history by becoming the first African American to serve in the Supreme Court when he was appointed justice of the highest court and retired in 1961.
He was most noted for bringing about change in American society through the courts. He often did not agree with the majority opinion. Thus, became known for his “impassioned dissents” (Thurgood Marshall Further Readings 1). For instance, he was strongly opposed to capital punishment and voiced his opposition to the penalty (Friedman 11). While a Circuit judge Marshall wrote ninety-eight opinions and all were upheld by the Supreme Court. Moreover, when he served as Solicitor General he backed affirmative action firmly and in the case of Regents of the University of California V. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 98 S. Ct. 2733, 57 L. Ed. 2d 750 (1978). In this case, he criticized the court’s decision that the Texas property tax system and the reservation of 16 spots out of 100 for disadvantaged groups, as not good enough he also opposed the tax system because it denied students equal education.
Concisely, Marshall served his country by fighting for the rights of the minority. He supported the cause of racial minorities, women, and organized labor. He also fought for the expansion of the rights of freedom of expression as well as the reduction of police authority. He was committed to the fight against social inequalities and kept the fire burning (Biography 1). He did this through the justice system by winning cases that altered the lives of the people in general. Of all his cases, he won 29 out of 30, and through some of the cases; minorities won the right to vote and ended segregation in the transport sector. This shows he was a brilliant law practitioner who made his life mission to change lives.
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Finally, Marshall had to retire as a Supreme just when he became sick in 1961. However, he remained critical of the government’s policies that were unfair to the disenfranchised groups (Thurgood Marshall Further Readings 1). He passed away in 1993 following a heart failure aged 84 years. He left behind his wife Cecilia and two sons (Christensen 41). Marshall remains as one of the men who shaped America’s history through decisions of the cases he won in courts that had far-reaching effects. He laid the foundation for America today and he was truly a civil rights soldier.
Christensen, George. “Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited.” Journal of Supreme Court History. 33. 1 (2008): 17 – 41.
Friedman, Michael Jay. The case of the century. america.gov. n.d. Web.
Frost, Helen. Thurgood Marshall. Minnesota: Capstone Press, 2003. Print.
Thurgood Marshall Biography. Oyez.org. n.d. Web.
Thurgood Marshall College. Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court Justice.gmu.edu. n.d. Web.
Thurgood Marshall Further Readings. Jrank.org. 2010. Web.