Thoroughgood Marshall Early Years
Thoroughgood Marshall was born July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland; his father was a railroad porter and his mother a schoolteacher. After a brief period in New York City, the family moved to a racially diverse, largely middle class neighborhood in Baltimore called Druid Hill, although he attended segregated schools, graduating from the city's Colored High School in 1924 when he was only 16 years old. (He shortened his name to Thurgood in the second grade.)
Marshall's exposure to the law and the Constitution was unusually early. His father, William Marshall, never attended college, but he was fascinated by court trials and often took his son along with him. Marshall described himself as a "hell raiser" as a child, and while his naturally argumentative nature may have gotten him into a certain amount of trouble, it would prove a useful trait as a lawyer. One of Marshall's punishments for talking too much involved the U.S. Constitution.
"Instead of making us copy out stuff on the blackboard after school when we misbehaved," Marshall later recalled, "our teacher sent us down into the basement to learn parts of the Constitution. I made my way through every paragraph."
These early experiences reinforced many of the deepest convictions that shaped Marshall's professional career, including the importance of education for individual advancement, a deep respect for the legal profession, and the recognition of the bonds of family and community. "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps," Marshall said later.
Thoroughgood Marshall Lincoln University
Thurgood Marshall while he was a student at Lincoln University. The photo is Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity pledges (Marshall is 2nd from right in middle row).
Thurgood Marshall graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree from Lincoln University in 1930. Lincoln University in rural Pennsylvania, is one of the nation's oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The school was chartered in 1854 as the Ashmun Institute and described by one of its early presidents as "the first institution found anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent." It was renamed after President Abraham Lincoln in 1866. Among Lincoln's distinguished graduates were Marshall's classmate Langston Hughes; musician Cab Calloway; Kwame Nkrumah, first leader of an independent Ghana; and Nnamdi Azikiwe, first president of Nigeria.
At Lincoln, Marshall's interest in civil rights and the law deepened and he became a star member of the school's debating team, which competed against teams from such powerhouse institutions as Harvard University and Britain's Cambridge University. Marshall also met and married Vivian Burey in 1929, then a student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Thoroughgood Marshall Howard University
In 1934, Thurgood Marshall graduated first in his class from Howard University Law School. Marshall wanted to attend the University of Maryland Law School but did not apply after it became clear that he would not be admitted into the segregated institution. The rejection stung deeply, but he refused to be deterred from a legal education by enrolling at one of America's most distinguished HBCUs, Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. He made the long daily commute from Baltimore to Howard because he couldn't afford housing. His mother pawned her wedding and engagement rings to help pay the tuition. Marshall nevertheless excelled at Howard, graduating first in his class in 1933.
At Howard, Marshall made the most important professional friendship and alliance of his career with Professor Charles Hamilton Houston, who served as an important intellectual father to the 20th-century civil rights movement in the United States.
Houston, a Harvard Law School graduate, later served as chief legal counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a position in which he would later be succeeded by Marshall himself. Houston was the first African American lawyer to win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Marshall credited Houston, who died in 1950, with devising the basic legal strategy that ultimately succeeded in legal segregation in the United States, specifically the "separate but equal" provisions of the Supreme Court's 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision.
"Charlie Houston insisted that we be social engineers rather than lawyers," Marshall said in a 1992 interview published by the American Bar Association. Referring to Brown v. Board of Education, Marshall said, "The school case was really Charlie's victory. He just never got a chance to see it."
A Career and a Cause
After earning his law degree, Marshall opened a law office in Baltimore in the depths of the Great Depression but quickly found himself in debt by handling civil rights cases for poor clients. In 1934 he went to work for the NAACP. A year later, with Houston as his adviser, Marshall won his first major racial discrimination case, Murray v. Pearson, which ended segregation of the University of Maryland's Law School. The victory over the school that had previously denied him admittance was especially sweet for Marshall, but the decision didn't strike at the heart of segregation since it was won on the grounds that the state of Maryland could not provide a credible "separate but equal" institution for providing African Americans with a legal education.
In 1936 Marshall became a staff NAACP lawyer based in New York; two years later, he succeeded Houston as the organization's chief counsel, although the two continued to work closely together. Marshall founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in 1940. (The Fund became a separate organization in 1957.)
"Under Marshall, the NAACP's legal staff became the model for public interest law firms," wrote one of his biographers, Mark Tushnet. "Marshall was thus one of the first public interest lawyers. His commitment to racial justice led him and his staff to develop ways of thinking about constitutional litigation that have been enormously influential far beyond the areas of segregation and discrimination."
The Long Campaign
Together, Marshall and Houston mapped a long-term strategy to challenge and eradicate segregation in the United States that focused chiefly but not exclusively on education. At the time, the NAACP was devoting much of its resources to equalizing spending and resources for black schools operating in a racially segregated system.
Marshall convinced the NAACP to abandon that approach and said he would accept only cases that challenged segregation itself. The policy shift was controversial within the organization at the time, and several black lawyers who worked with the NAACP in the South resigned, increasing the burden on Marshall and his staff.
For two decades, Marshall traveled constantly, up to 50,000 miles a year, supervising more than 400 cases at a time and often facing the threat of harassment and even physical attack. "I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown for a long time, but never quite made the grade," he commented.
Marshall's record of success in striking down discriminatory and segregationist laws was extraordinary, winning 29 of 32 cases he argued. Among the most significant:
Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938)
argued before the court by Charles Houston, extended the Maryland Murray v. Pearson decision to the entire nation, maintaining that a state with a single law school could not discriminate on the basis of race.
Chambers v. Florida (1940)
reversed the conviction of four black men accused of murder on grounds that excessive police pressure and coercion rendered their confessions inadmissible.
Smith v. Allwright (1944)
prohibited "whites only" primary elections that selected candidates for the general election. Marshall considered this case one of his most important victories, according to biographer Juan Williams.
Morgan v. Virginia (1946)
barred segregation in interstate bus transportation. Marshall also prevailed on the court to desegregate bus terminals who served interstate passengers. The Morgan decision served as the legal basis for the celebrated "Freedom Rides" of the early 1960s.
Patton v. Mississippi (1947)
maintained that juries from which African Americans had been systematically excluded could not convict black defendants.
Shelly v. Kraemer (1948)
declared that racially restrictive covenants preventing the sale of property to African Americans or other minorities could not be enforced by the state and were therefore null and void.
Sweatt v. Painter (1950)
held that the University of Texas School of Law could not deny admittance to an African American student since the separate law school for blacks did not provide anything approaching "substantive equality."
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950)
held that institutions of higher learning could not discriminate solely on the basis of race to meet the state's segregation requirements. The case involved an African American graduate student at the University of Oklahoma who was separated from the other students in the classroom and elsewhere on campus.
Along with his unwavering commitment to racial equality, legal scholarship, and intense preparation, Marshall commanded the courtroom with an orator's eloquence and a storyteller's charm. His later Supreme Court colleague William Brennan wrote of Marshall's stories, "They are brought to life by all the tricks of the storyteller's art: the fluid voice, the mobile eyebrows, the sidelong glance, the pregnant pause and the wry smile."
But they serve a deeper purpose, Brennan continued. "They are his way of preserving the past while purging it of its bleakest moments. They are also a form of education for the rest of us. Surely, Justice Marshall recognized that the stories made us – his colleagues – confront walks of life we had never know."
Thurgood Marshall, Sr. Associate Justice of the United State Supreme Court (1967-1991)
Thurgood Marshall, Sr. was sworn into office as the first African-American associate justice of the United States Supreme Court on October 2, 1967. His appointment by President Lyndon B. Johnson was simultaneously and ostensibly both a historic and a defining moment for America.
Justice Marshall’s appointment came at a pivotal time in American history, following his two-year appointment by President John F. Kennedy as United States Solicitor General (1965-1967). The nation was also grappling with several national issues that had bitterly divided Americans such as civil rights, the Vietnam War, desegregation of public schools, integration, race relations, abortion and the growing competitiveness between conservative views and liberal views and interestingly, many of those issues would come before the High Court during Justice Marshall’s 24-year term of service.
Yet, the state of the nation in 1967 was ideal for the new associate justice, a man who had spent 34 years of his life fighting for the civil rights of black Americans and the poor primarily but whose legal victories ultimately advanced the rights of all Americans. Prior to his appointment as an associate justice, Justice Marshall had won a stunning 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court, distinguishing himself as an advocate of the Court.
Justice Marshall’s 24 years on the Supreme Court continued his tireless fight for civil rights and his unyielding vision of the Constitution fulfilling its promise of equality for all Americans. His decisions were sometimes met with the intense opposition of his peers on many issues of national prominence such as the death penalty, abortion, desegregation and laws affecting the rights of the poor. However, he never compromised the values, beliefs and convictions that had guided his success as a lawyer who was often credited as being a leading architect of the civil rights movement.
The First Years
During his first years on the High Court, Justice Marshall signed very few dissents as he generally voted with the liberal majority of justices who were on the Court at that time. Some the more notable cases that the justices heard included:
Mempa v. Rhay in 1967, in which Justice Marshall wrote his first opinion in a unanimous decision that granted defendants the right to an attorney during every stage of the criminal process. He particularly expressed his belief this right was important to the poor.
Stanley v. Georgia in 1969, which held that the private possession of pornography could not be subject to prosecution.
Benton v. Maryland in 1969, which gave defendants protection against double jeopardy in state courts.
Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg in 1970, in which Justice Marshall persuaded his colleagues to unanimously confirm the use of busing to integrate public schools, an issue that was close to his heart in light of his landmark case Brown v. Board of Education.
The 1970s: A Time of Change
1970 ushered in a new era of conservatism as the Court became skewed with more conservative justices. By 1972, Justice Marshall was the only remaining appointee of President Johnson and the 1970s marked the beginning of his legal battles against conservatives that followed him throughout his remaining years on the Court. Two landmark cases in which his personal convictions led him to fight vigorously for what he believed was right involved abortion and the death penalty:
Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1971 were landmark cases revolving around Texas and Georgia statutes restricting abortions. The justices were divided on the issue as well and Justice Marshall was openly aggressive in trying to the shape the Court’s opinion. In the end, he prevailed and the controversial ruling allowed abortion until such time that the fetus had viability outside the mother’s body.
Furman v. Georgia in 1972 prompted Justice Marshall to become the leader of the justices who were opposed to the death penalty. They won a difficult 5-4 vote outlawing capital punishment and marking the beginning of the justice’s long fight on the Court against the death penalty, which he vehemently opposed. He argued that the death penalty was applied inconsistently to different defendants and often was only applied to minorities and the indigent.
Over the years, as more conservative justices were appointed to the High Court, justices such as Justice Marshall and his ally Justice William Brennan, slowly became the minority. This sparked the beginning of Justice Marshall’s foray into writing a number of dissents, a practice that he would continue until his retirement in 1991 and also resulted in others in the judicial system to dub him “The Great Dissenter.” Two of his early and best known dissenting opinions occurred in two cases that shared similarities with Brown v. Board of Education.
In the 1973 case San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, the majority cast a 5-4 vote that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection was not violated by the property tax system used by Texas and most other states to finance public education. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Marshall argued that the right to an education should be regarded as a fundamental constitutional right and when state policies have the effect of discriminating on the basis of wealth, the policies should be subject to judicial scrutiny.
In 1974, black parents sued after the Detroit courts would not approve their request that the black urban school district and the white suburban school districts be merged to promote integration. After the parents won in the lower courts and appeals court, the Supreme Court reversed the rulings. Justice Marshall wrote an extremely strong dissenting opinion citing Brown v. Board of Education.
Justice Marshall’s work during the mid 1970s centered on one issue that he viewed as having among the greatest implications for society: the death penalty. When the High Court heard another death penalty case, there was a 7-2 vote to reinstate capital punishment in 1976, bitterly disappointing him.
Two days after reading his dissent to the majority opinion on the death penalty, Justice Marshall suffered his first heart attack while at home in his Fairfax County, Virginia. Over the next three days, he suffered two more heart attacks while hospitalized, marking the beginning his 15-year struggle with maintaining the rigors of serving on the conservative majority Supreme Court amid his deteriorating health.
Over the next five years, Justice Marshall faced tremendous pressure as new cases that went to the heart of his lifelong efforts on civil rights erupted and came before the Court, including a new cases on abortion, affirmative action and contracts for minority businesses.
Justice Marshall wrote a particularly impassioned dissent following the Court’s decision in the critical 1997 Bakke case. The case involved a young white man, Allan Bakke, who sued the University of California at Davis. Bakke asserted that the university had violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights when 16 minority students with lower grades than he had been admitted to the medical school, while he had been denied. The case was long and particularly divisive, ending a 5-4 majority voting against the university, which was a great disappointment to Justice Marshall.
1980-1991: Forging Ahead
Justice Marshall, though battling failing health and battling conservatives on the Court, presented powerfully persuasive arguments on the first major race relations case of the 1980s, which involved the constitutionality of a federal government plan to set aside 10 percent of its contracts for minority businesses. He cited the history of government-approved racial discrimination and the need for the government to remedy it. The Court voted 6-3 in support of Justice Marshall’s arguments, giving him a needed victory.
Throughout the 1980s, Justice Marshall continued to argue strategically and vigorously in cases that asserted a more expansive focus on civil rights in areas such as the homeless, the indigent and prisoners with mental problems. He saw some major victories such as two cases involving the death penalty for mentally ill inmates being overturned. In those cases in which his arguments did not prevail, Justice Marshall continued his track record of strongly worded dissents.
He wrote dissents in every death penalty case and every case in which black defendants charged that prosecutors used race as a basis for not allowing black jurors. A 1986 case gave Justice Marshall a tremendously satisfying victory when in a 7-2 ruling, the justices held that black jurors could not be excluded simply because the defendant was also black.
By 1990, amid failing health and as the sole justice appointed by a Democratic president, Justice Marshall continued writing strongly-worded dissents in response to the Court’s notably regressive stand on civil rights cases.
In June 1991, he officially announced its retirement but continued to serve the law until his health prevented him from leaving his home.
He died of heart failure at Bethesda Medical Center at age 84 on Sunday, January 24, 1993.
Thurgood Marshall had given his life to the crusade for civil rights and justice for all, leaving an indelible imprint on history and on the lives of future generations of Americans.
Thurgood Marshall's Family
Marshall was born to Norma A. Marshall and William Canfield on July 2, 1908. His parents were mulatottes, which are people classified as being at least half white. Norma and William were raised as “Negroes” and each taught their children to be proud of their ancestry. Furthermore, Marshall’s parents were against segregation, and instilled education as a means of uplift for their children. This passion for anti-segregation and education clearly transcended to Thurgood Marshall, Sr.
William, Thurgood’s father, worked full-time as a Pullman-car waiter and he had a deep passion for writing. He was later appointed a steward in Chesapeake Bay at the Gibson Island Club. Norma Marshall was an educator who taught elementary school. She enrolled in a teacher’s training program at Thurgood Marshall College Fund member institution Coppin State College. Norma became pregnant just prior to her graduation; however, she later completed her degree and William was in full support of her becoming a college graduate.
On December 17, 1955, Marshall married Cecila “Cissy” Suyat Marshall. In 1956, Thurgood Marshall, Jr. was born, who was Marshall’s first child. Presently, Marshall Jr. is an attorney in Washington, D.C. He is employed as a partner with Bingham McCutchen and a principal with the Bingham Consulting Group. Marshall, Jr. formerly served as Assistant to the President and a Cabinet Secretary under William “Bill” Jefferson Clinton from 1997 to 2001. He earned baccalaureate and juris doctor degrees from the University of Virginia. He is serving or has served on various boards, specifically the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service, Board of Trustees of the Ford Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Association, Corrections Corporation of America, Third Way, National Women's Law Center, University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and Supreme Court Historical Society. He currently lives in Virginia with his wife Teddi Marshall and their two sons, Will and Patrick. The couple remained married until Marshall’s death in 1993.
Thurgood Marshall’s Wife and Sons
Eight months after his wedding, Thurgood Marshall, Jr. was born, who was Marshall’s first child. Presently, Marshall Jr. is an attorney in Washington, D.C. He is employed as a partner with Bingham McCutchen and a principal with the Bingham Consulting Group. Marshall, Jr. formerly served as Assistant to the President and a Cabinet Secretary under William “Bill” Jefferson Clinton from 1997 to 2001. He earned baccalaureate and juris doctor degrees from the University of Virginia. He is serving or has served on various boards, specifically the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service, Board of Trustees of the Ford Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Association, Corrections Corporation of America, Third Way, National Women's Law Center, University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and Supreme Court Historical Society. He currently lives in Virginia with his wife Teddi Marshall and their two sons, Will and Patrick.
A few years after the birth of Marshall, Jr., Cissy Marshall delivered a second baby boy. In July 1958, John W. Marshall was born. During the time of John’s birth, polls among African Americans revealed that Marshall, Sr. was tied with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the title of “Most Important Black Leader” for his stance on civil rights. Currently, John W. Marshall serves as Secretary of Public Safety for the Commonwealth of Virginia under the leadership of Governor Timothy M. Kaine. Secretary Marshall was first appointed under Governor Mark Warner in 2002 and re-appointed in January 2006. In his role, he has “responsibility for the oversight of 14 agencies and over 22,000 employees, including the Department of Corrections, Virginia National Guard and the Virginia State Police.” Educated at Georgetown University with an undergraduate degree in government, Secretary Marshall also obtained a post-baccalaureate certificate in administration of justice from Virginia Commonwealth University. Of note, Secretary Marshall is the first African American to serve as Director of the U.S. Marshall Service, America’s oldest federal law enforcement organization.
Thurgood Marshall Jr. (BIOGRAPHY)
Thurgood Marshall, Jr.Thurgood Marshall Jr. represents client interests before Congress, the executive branch and independent regulatory agencies. He provides guidance regarding ethics compliance and corporate governance and has developed legislative and regulatory strategies for clients involved in corporate mergers, professional and amateur sports, commercial aviation, utility and banking regulation, pharmaceuticals, and legal process reforms. He has also represented numerous witnesses involved in congressional investigations.
Thurgood's professional background includes service in each branch of the federal government and in the private sector. Prior to joining the firm, he was a member of the White House senior staff in the Clinton Administration, holding the position of assistant to the president and cabinet secretary from 1997 to 2001. In that position, he was the liaison between the president and the executive branch agencies. He served on the president's Management Council and was a senior member of the Continuity in Government team and directed the White House responses to natural disasters and transportation emergencies, including commercial aircraft crashes. Thurgood also co-chaired the White House Olympic Task Force. In that capacity, he coordinated the involvement of the federal government in the preparations for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Prior to his appointment as cabinet secretary, Thurgood was director of legislative affairs and deputy counsel to Vice President Al Gore. He managed all of the vice president's legislative activities, held a position on the Senate leadership staff and played a leading role on a wide range of legislative priorities throughout the first term of the Clinton administration. Before that, he was counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, as well as the Governmental Affairs Committee. He worked extensively on legislative initiatives ranging from antitrust, criminal procedure, corporate crime, insurance, intellectual property and telecommunications, to consumer protection, transportation safety and product liability.
Thurgood began his legal career as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Barrington D. Parker of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
He serves on the boards of Corrections Corporation of America and the Ford Foundation and was appointed by President George W. Bush on the recommendation of Senator Harry Reid to serve as a member of the board of governors of the United States Postal Service.
John W. Marshall (BIOGRAPHY)
Secretary of Public Safety John W. Marshall
On January 15, 2006, Governor Timothy M. Kaine appointed John W. Marshall to the position of Secretary of Public Safety. As Secretary of Public Safety, Marshall has responsibility for the oversight of 14 agencies and over 22,000 employees, including the Department of Corrections, Virginia National Guard and the Virginia State Police. Prior to his appointment by Governor Kaine, Marshall was appointed Secretary of Public Safety by Governor Mark R. Warner in January 2002.
John Marshall began his career in public service and law enforcement in 1980 as a Virginia State Trooper. During his 14 years with the Department of State Police, he also served as a Special Agent in the Narcotics Division, Sergeant-Instructor at the Training Academy and as a Sergeant assigned to Field Operations.
In 1994, President William J. Clinton appointed Marshall to serve as the United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia. Later in 1999, President Clinton nominated Marshall to serve as the Director of the United States Marshals Service, our nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency. Upon confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Marshall took office as Director in November of 1999. He is the first African-American to serve as the Director.
Secretary Marshall graduated from Georgetown University in1988 with a BA in Government, and he also holds a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in the Administration of Justice from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Thurgood Marshall Stage Play Playbill
Drama Desk, Emmy, and Tony awards’ winner and Oscar nominee, Laurence Fishburne plays civil rights victor Thurgood Marshall, Sr. in a one-man Broadway play entitled Thurgood. Opening on April 30, 2008 at the Booth Theater in New York City, Fishburne portrays the late Marshall’s life from his job as a waiter at a country club to his position as an Associate Justice on the High Court. Marshall is remembered as the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Broadway.com describes Thurgood as: “a triumph of courage—not just for the man, but for the nation he bravely challenged and proudly served.”
Thurgood Marshall College Fund Honors Actor Laurence Fishburne, Award Of Excellence
Actor awarded for portrayal of late Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall
New York, NY – May 1, 2008 – Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) president and CEO, Dwayne Ashley honored actor Laurence Fishburne with an Award of Excellence for his portrayal in “Thurgood” a one-man play, which opened last night, Wednesday, April 30, 2008, at the Booth Theater in New York City. The play is based on the life and times of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to sit on the United States Supreme Court and NAACP’s lead counsel in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
Fishburne, the recipient of Drama Desk, Tony and Emmy awards as well as a nomination for an Academy Award, has an acting career that spans more than 35 years. In this moving role, Fishburne narrates the life of Thurgood Marshall from his days waiting tables at a country club to his tenure as a United States Supreme Court Justice.
Ashley noted to Fishburne during the recognition, “Just as Thurgood Marshall exemplified in his works and deeds on behalf of our nation, I present this bust in his image to you for the body of work you have done in your career. The excellence you have exemplified in your craft culminating with your brilliant portrayal of Justice Marshall this evening is the best of the best.”
“It is only fitting that the Thurgood Marshall College Fund recognize Laurence Fishburne for his moving portrayal of this organization’s namesake,” said Ashley. “We applaud Mr. Fishburne for his contribution to entertainment and expanding Thurgood Marshall’s legacy through this production.”