Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall

Associate Justice

Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908 to Episcopalian parents, Norma Williams and William Marshall. Thurgood Marshall was the grandson of a slave. His father, William Marshall, instilled in him from youth an appreciation for the United States Constitution and the rule of law. After completing high school in 1925, Thurgood followed his brother, William Aubrey Marshall, at the historically black Lincoln University in Chester, Pennsylvania. Just before graduation, he married his first wife, Vivian "Buster" Burey. Their twenty-five year marriage ended with her death from cancer in 1955. He married his second wife, Cecilia Suyat in 1955. Justice Marshall died on January 24, 1993. He was survived by two children.

Marshall graduated in 1930 from Lincoln University. That same year, he applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but was denied admission because he was Black. Marshall sought admission and was accepted at the Howard University Law School. Marshall graduated from Howard University Law School in 1933, ranking first in his class.

Law Practice:
Marshall began his legal career as counsel to the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall's first major court case came in 1933 when he successfully sued the University of Maryland to admit a young African American Amherst University graduate named Donald Gaines Murray. He joined the national legal staff in 1936 and in 1938 became Chief Legal Officer. In 1940, the NAACP created the Legal Defense and Education Fund, with Marshall as its director and Counsel. For more than twenty years, Marshall coordinated the NAACP effort to end racial segregation.

In 1954, he argued the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka before the Supreme Court of the United States, a case in which racial segregation in United States public schools was declared unconstitutional. He won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court, including a Southern state's exclusion of African-American voters from primary elections (Smith v. Allwright, 1944), state judicial enforcement of of racial "restrictive covenants" in housing (Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948), and "separate but equal" facilities for African-American professionals and graduate students in state universities (Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, both 1950).

Government Service:
President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961. Four years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him Solicitor General of the United States. During this period, Mr. Marshall was asked by the United Nations and the United Kingdom to help draft the constitutions of the emerging African nations of Ghana and what is now Tanzania.

Judicial Offices:
After amassing an impressive record of Supreme Court challenges to state-sponsored discrimination, including the landmark Brown v. Board decision in 1954, President John F. Kennedy appointed Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in 1961. In this capacity, he wrote over 150 decisions including support for the rights of immigrants, limiting government intrusion in cases involving illegal search and seizure, double jeopardy, and right to privacy issues.

In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson appointed Judge Marshall to the office of U.S. Solicitor General. Before his subsequent nomination to the United States Supreme Court in 1967, Thurgood Marshall won 14 of the 19 cases he argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the government.

President Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court of the United States on June 13, 1967. The Senate confirmed the appointment on August 30, 1967 and he was sworn in on October 2, 1967, making Justice Marshall the first African-American justice to sit on the Court. Marshall served 23 years on the Supreme Court, retiring on June 27, 1991, at the age of 82.

"The Supreme Court as Protector of Civil Rights: Equal Protection of the Laws" (1951); "The Continuing Challenge of the Fourteenth Amendment" (1968); "Financing Public Interest Law Practice: The Role of the Organized Bar" (1975)"

More Biographical Information:

  • Judges of the United States Courts From the Federal Judicial Center.
  • Marshall, Thurgood From Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  • Marshall, Thurgood From
  • Thurgood Marshall From the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Features records relating to Marshall's activities with the NAACP and background investigations conducted in connection with his appointment as a Federal Judge and Supreme Court Justice.
  • Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary By Juan Williams. Features interviews, speeches, articles, and more.
  • Thurgood Marshall From the Oyez Project (Northwestern University).
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