Justice Thurgood Marshall

Early Life

On July 2, 1908 Thoroughgood Marshall was born to William and Norma in Baltimore, Maryland. His mother was a school teacher and his father was a railroad porter. In second grade, he shortened his name to Thurgood because he did not like writing such a long name.

From an early age, both parents shaped Thurgood and his older brother Aubrey into articulate speakers and expert debaters. These traits proved essential to his future success as a lawyer.

Growing up in Baltimore, Thurgood was exposed to more than his fair share of segregation and racism which contributed to his passion for fighting for equality. These early life experiences helped produce one of the most significant figures in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as in African American history,


Marshall was intelligent but not the best student. After graduating high school at age 16, with a B- average, Thurgood decided to follow his brother Aubrey to Lincoln University. A historically black university in Pennsylvania, some of his classmates included Langston Hughes and Cab

Calloway. At first, Thurgood did not take his studies seriously, even getting suspended twice. It was not until he met Vivian Buster Burey that he began to apply himself and improve his school habits. By the end of his sophomore year, the two were married. Marshall went on to graduate in 1930, cum laude with a BA in American Literature and Philosophy.

Following his time at Lincoln University, Thurgood attended Howard University School of Law. There he was mentored by the dean, Charles Hamilton Houston, the first general counsel of the NAACP. This relationship established the trajectory for the rest of Thurgood’s life. In 1933, he

graduated from Howard with an LL.B. magna cum laude and first in his class.


Shortly thereafter, Marshall established his own private practice, but by 1936 he became part of the NAACP national staff as the chief legal counsel. He traveled the country defending African Americans in court. In 1940, Marshall established the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund to continue the fight for racial justice. He was involved with several high profile cases, including a challenge of Plessy v. Ferguson, but perhaps none were more famous than Brown v. Board of Education. This landmark case was argued in front of the United States Supreme Court in 1952 and 1953, and his success resulted in the overturning of “separate but equal” practices. Marshall continued his work with the NAACP and the Legal Defense Fund until 1961. All of his work defined him as a significant figure in the Civil Rights movement and earned him the nickname “Mr. Civil Rights”.

Supreme Court Justice

In 1961, Thurgood was nominated to the US Court of Appeals by President Kennedy. Not long after, in 1965, he was appointed by President Johnson to be Solicitor General, making him the first African American to hold the office. His impressive and rapid rise only continued as he was appointed to the United States Supreme Court on August 30, 1967. On October 2, 1967 he was

sworn in as Justice Thurgood Marshall. This was another first credited to Marshall, as he became the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Justice Marshall served 24 years on the Supreme Court, participated in 3,655 cases, and dissented 967 times. He was ardently opposed to the death penalty and continued his legacy of fighting to address and end racial injustices. In 1991, Justice Marshall retired from the Supreme Court citing old age and deteriorating health as the reason.

Continuing Legacy

Two years later on January 24, 1993, he passed away as a result of heart failure. He was 84 years old. Marshall was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. In November of that year, President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded Justice Marshall with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian awards in the United States. Today, the legacy of “Mr. Civil Rights” lives on as work toward equality for all continues.