Thurgood Marshall

How did Thurgood Marshall affect the Civil Rights Movement?

Early Life

Born July 2, 1908, Baltimore, Maryland. His father, William Marshall, (grandson of a slave) steward at an exclusive club, while his mother, Norma Marshall, was a kindergarten teacher. His interesting in lawyers began at an early age when his brother, father and himself would argue at the dinner table about anything or the cases his father saw that day after work. Thurgood said they would argue five out of seven days at the dinner table.

High School

Attended Baltimore's Colored High and Training school and was an above average student while being a star member of the debate team. Marshall was a troublemaker, his greatest high school achievement was memorizing the United States Constitution as a punishment.

College Life

Attended Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania and graduated with honors in 1930. Marshall applied for the University of Maryland Law School, Marshall was overqualified academically but was denied entry due to his race. This incident was Marshall's firsthand experience with discrimination which left a lasting impression and helped him determine his future. He then attended Howard University law school in Washington D.C. Dean Charles Houston was Marshall's mentor and a pioneering civil rights lawyer.

Murray v. Pearson case

This was Marshall's first case which he worked alone side his mentor, Charles Houston. Houston and Marshall defended a well-qualified undergraduate, Donald Murray, who was denied entrance to University of Maryland Law School. January 1936, Marshall and Houston won the case. This was the first in a string of cases designed to undermine the legal basis for de jure racial segregation in the U.S

Chamber v. Florida & Smith v. Allwright

In 1936 Marshall moves to New York City to work full-time as a legal counsel for NAACP. He argued and won many cases to strike down many forms off legal racism. Marshall was helping to inspire the American Civil Rights Movement. Marshall's first victory before the Supreme Court was Chamber v. Florida in 1940. In Chamber v. Florida he successfully defended four black men who had been convicted of murder on the basis of confessions coerced from them by police. A crucial Supreme Court victory was Smith v. Allwright in 1944. The Court struck down Democratic Party's use of whites-only primary elections in various southern states.

Brown v. Board of Education

This case was a great achievement in Marshall's career as a civil rights lawyer. The case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 before the Supreme Court. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of black parents in Topeka on behalf of their children who were being forced to attend an all-black segregated school. This was one of the most important case in the 20th century. Marshall challenged head-on the legal underpinning of racial segregation the doctrine of "separate but equal" established in 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. May 17, 1954 Supreme court unanimously ruled that "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" and this racial segregation of public schools violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. Enforcement of the courts ruling proved to be uneven and painfully slow, Brown v. Board proved the legal foundation and inspiration for American Civil Rights Movement that unfolded over the next decade. This case established Marshall as one of the most successful and prominent lawyers in America.

Circuit Court Judge & Solicitor General

In 1961 John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall as a judge for the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Marshall did the for four years until Kennedy's Successor, Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall as the first black US Solicitor General. During his two years as Solicitor General he won 14 of the 19 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Justice

In 1976 President Johnson nominated Marshall to serve on the bench of the United States Supreme Court. On October 2, 1967 Marshall was sworn in as Supreme Court Justice. Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American to serve on the nation's highest court. In 1991 he retired from Supreme court and was replaced by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Personal Life

Marshall's first wife was Vivian "Buster" Burey in 1929 and the two stayed together until Vivian died in 1955. His second wife was Cecilia Suyat, his secretary at NAACP, got married shortly after Vivian's death. Cecilia and Thurgood had two sons together, Thurgood Jr. and John Marshall.

Death and Legacy

Thurgood Marshall died January 24, 1993 at the age of 84. Marshall was arguably the most instrumental in the movements achievements toward racial equality. In the aftermath of Marshall's death an obituary read:

"We make movies about Malcom X, get a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, but every day we live the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall."


"Thurgood Marshall." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2014