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Thurgood Marshall

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Thurgood Marshall was a leading civil rights attorney before serving as Solicitor General and finally as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
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Thurgood Marshall was a leading civil rights attorney before serving as Solicitor General and finally as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908January 24, 1993) was the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was known for his liberal and pro-Civil rights positions. He was also known as one of the most important lawyers in American history, having played a key role in the litigation that ended mandatory racial segregation in the United States.

He served on the court from 1967 until 1991, when he retired due to ill health.

Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His parents, William and Norma, named him "Thoroughgood" after his great-grandfather, a former slave who had fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. However, Marshall found the name cumbersome and was known as Thurgood from childhood. After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School and Lincoln University, Marshall applied to the University of Maryland Law School. He was turned down because of that school's segregation policy and attended Howard University instead.

Marshall received his law degree from Howard in 1933, and set up a private practice in Baltimore. The following year, he began working with the Baltimore NAACP. He won his first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson, in 1936; his co-counsel on that case was Charles Hamilton Houston. Marshall represented Donald Gaines Murray, a student who had been denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because of his race.

Marshall won his first Supreme Court case, Chambers v. Florida 309 US 227 1940. That same year, at the age of 32, he was appointed Chief counsel for the NAACP. He argued many other cases before the Supreme Court, most of them successfully, including Smith v. Allwright 321 US 649 1944, Shelley v. Kraemer 334 US 1 1948, Sweatt v. Painter 339 US 629 1950, and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents 339 US 637 1950. His most famous case as a lawyer was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 347 US 483 1954, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" public education was illegal because it could never be truly equal. In total, Marshall won twenty nine out of the thirty-two cases he argued before the Supreme Court.

President Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961. A group of white southern Senators led by Mississippi's James Eastland and West Virginia's Robert Byrd held up his confirmation, so he served for the first several months under a "recess appointment." Marshall remained on that court until 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson appointed him Solicitor General. Johnson then appointed him to the Supreme Court on June 13, 1967, saying that this was "the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place."

President Johnson confidently predicted to one biographer, Doris Kearns, that a lot of black baby boys would be named "Thurgood" in honor of this choice.

Marshall served on the Court for the next twenty-four years, compiling a moderately liberal record that included strong support for Constitutional protection of individual rights, especially the rights of criminal suspects against the government. His most frequent ally on the Court was Justice William Brennan, who consistently joined him in opposing the death penalty. There is a memorial[1] (http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/stagser/s1259/121/6259/html/0001.html) to him near the Maryland state house.

Marshall was married twice; to Vivien "Buster" Burey from 1929 until her death in February 1955 and to Cecilia "Cissy" Suyat from December 1955 until his death in 1993. Marshall had two sons from his second marriage; Thurgood Marshall Jr., a former top aide to President Bill Clinton, and John W. Marshall, who is currently Secretary of Public Safety in the Cabinet of Virginia Governor Mark Warner and a former United States Marshals Service Director.

The University of California, San Diego has named one of its colleges after Thurgood Marshall.

On February 14, 1976, the law school at Texas Southern University was formally named The Thurgood Marshall School of Law[2] (http://www.tsu.edu/academics/law/). The school's mission is to "significantly impact the diversity of the legal profession".

On October 1, 2005, Baltimore-Washington International Airport will be renamed Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in his honor.

Marshall was a prominent member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.


Preceded by:
Tom C. Clark
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
October 2, 1967October 1, 1991
Succeeded by:
Clarence Thomas

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