Marshall was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. As a justice, he established a record for supporting the voiceless American, developing a profound sensitivity to injustice. He promoted affirmative action and is often remembered for his dissents in areas such as the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
Marshall was named for his paternal grandfather, a former slave who changed his name to Thoroughgood when he joined the U.S. Army during the Civil War. Marshall’s mother, Norma Arica Marshall, was one of the first African
After completing high school in 1925, Thurgood followed his brother, William Aubrey Marshall, in attending the historically black Lincoln University in Chester, Pennsylvania. While in college Marshall participated in a successful sit-in at a local movie theater. Protesters occupied whites-only seats to force the theater to cease making black patrons sit in a segregated balcony section.
In 1930 Marshall applied to the University of Maryland Law School but was denied admission because he
At the NAACP, Marshall helped develop and implement a strategy to fight racial segregation throughout the United States. Marshall won almost all the cases he argued before the Court on behalf of the NAACP. In Chambers v. Florida
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy
After Justice Tom C. Clark retired in 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court. On August 30, 1967, the Senate confirmed Marshall’s nomination. Marshall served on the Court until advanced age and failing health caused him to resign on June 28, 1991.
Marshall strongly believed that a judge’s central function is to act as a neutral arbiter of disputes that arise under the law. He further believed that judges were bound through their code of ethics to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or partiality. Yet as he once said, he did not think the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice demonstrated by the Framers of the Constitution to be profound. He found the government created by the Constitution to be “defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.” He said the credit for a good government belonged to “those who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of ’liberty,’ ’justice,’ and ’equality,’ and who strived to better them.” He believed that an African American child born in Mississippi had the same rights as any white child in the United States.
During his early years on the Court, Marshall was a member of the Court’s majority, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren and later by Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. For twenty-four years, in a few notable opinions for the Court and many dissents, Marshall continually supported organized labor, racial minorities, the advancement of women, the broadening of rights to freedom of expression, and the narrowing of police authority. He declared in Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley
Marshall spent, however, twenty-two of his twenty-four years, and especially his last ten years on the Court, in the minority. Therefore most of his opinions were dissenting, on such issues as abortion, affirmative action, and zoning. Surprisingly, Marshall wrote few opinions on civil rights cases. He had to recuse himself from many of the civil rights cases because he had worked on them before coming to the Court. Marshall dissented in Florida v. Bostick
One of Marshall’s best-known dissents is a sixty-three page opinion in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez
In his role as a dissenter, Marshall tried to educate others, to alter their worldviews. When someone once remarked to Marshall about his writing mostly dissents while on the Court, he responded that Justice Louis D. Brandeis did the same thing during his tenure on the Court and later Justice Brandeis’s dissents became the law.
As good a starting point as any is a collection of Marshall’s own speeches and writings: Thurgood Marshall: His Speeches, Writings, Arguments, Opinions, and Reminiscences (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2001). Among the many good biographies of Marshall are Randall Walton Bland’s Justice Thurgood Marshall: Crusader for Liberalism: His Judicial Biography, 1908-1993 (Bethesda. Md.: Academica Press, 2001) and Juan Williams’s Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary (New York: Random House, 1998). The latter is a careful and engrossing account of Thurgood Marshall’s life that emphasizes his work as counsel for the NAACP. Michael D. Davis and Hunter R. Clark’s Thurgood Marshall: Warrior at the Bar, Rebel on the Bench (Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing, 1994) examines Marshall’s views on some of the most sensitive and politically charged social issues--abortion, capital punishment, women’s rights, and affirmative action--and provides intriguing details on his relationships with John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. James S. Haskins’s Thurgood Marshall: A Life for Justice (New York: H. Holt, 1991) emphasizes Marshall’s enormous contributions to the Civil Rights movement and his unending commitment to the achievement of racial and social justice. Carl T. Rowan presents a riveting and absorbing portrait of Marshall’s career from the early Jim Crow years in Baltimore to Marshall’s twenty-four-year tenure on the Court in Dream Makers, Dream Breakers: The World of Justice Thurgood Marshall (New York: Welcome Rain, 2002). Roger Goldman and David Galien have compiled a collection of fifteen opinions and dissents of this national defender of individual liberties and civil rights, as well as personal recollections of Marshall’s closest associates in Thurgood Marshall: Justice for All (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992). Other recommended works include Howard Ball’s A Defiant Life: Thurgood Marshall and the Persistence of Racism in America (New York: Crown Publishing, 1998); Rae Bains’s Thurgood Marshall: Fight for Justice (Mahwah, N.J.: Troll Communications, 1993); and Seamus Cavan’s Thurgood Marshall and Equal Rights (Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1994); and James T. Patterson’s “Brown v. Board of Education”: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Brandeis, Louis D.
Brown v. Board of Education
Equal protection clause
Florida v. Bostick
Legal Defense Fund, NAACP
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Plessy v. Ferguson
San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez
Separate but equal doctrine
Shelley v. Kraemer
Smith v. Allwright
Stanley v. Georgia