The great-grandson of a slave worked his way through law school, opened his own practice, represented the NAACP and argued more than two dozen cases in front of the Supreme Court. Then took his place as the first black justice on it.
To mark the first #ThrowbackThursday of Black History Month, we’re examining the life of Thurgood Marshall.
Marshall was born in Baltimore – the city with an airport that now bears his name – in 1908. He attended Lincoln University, known as “the black Princeton,” while school segregation was still legal. Because segregation kept him from being able to attend the University of Maryland, he attended law school at Howard University in Washington, DC.
According to his Department of Justice biography, Marshall’s mother pawned her engagement and wedding rings to help put him through law school. And he made good on her sacrifice, opening a law office in his hometown and eventually joining the NAACP as a lawyer for more than two decades.
Marshall turned his focus to civil rights, particularly in education. He was one of the attorneys in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. You may have heard of it. And if you have heard of it, you probably also know that Marshall’s side won – “separate but equal” education was not, in fact, equal.
President John F. Kennedy named Marshall to the Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals in 1961. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson named him US Solicitor General.
“Marshall is already in the front ranks of the great lawyers of this generation. He has argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court; he has won 29 of them. And that is a batting average of .900,” Johnson said of Marshall.
Two years later, Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court. He was confirmed on August 30, 1967, with a vote of 69-11, and sworn in on October 2, 1967.
Justice Marshall became known as the court’s “great dissenter,” and sat on the bench for more than two decades. Since the Supreme Court first convened in 1790, 114 justices have served on the bench but only two justices have been African-American: Marshall and Clarence Thomas.
Marshall died in 1993 at the age of 84. Later that year, he was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.