A Film Entitled “Marshall”

According to The Buffalo News in an article on June 19, 2016, film crews have been in Buffalo, New York for the past month filming a story entitled “Marshall” revolving around a case which Thurgood Marshall handled early in his law career in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Producers were intrigued with the Buffalo locale, its streets, office buildings, old train stations and bridges, to give the film a transformed look of Bridgeport in those early days of the 1940’s.


Thurgood MarshallCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                    Thurgood Marshall                                                                                                                                                  Wikimedia

Buffalo as a Film Capital

Buffalo has recently become a mini film capital due to its offer of rebates and tax incentives luring film companies to shoot their episodes in Buffalo.  Since 2004, 1,336 film and television projects have participated in the rebate program.  The producers of “Marshall” expect to spend at least $4.5 million, hire more than 400 crew and extras, and book an estimated 1,100 hotel room nights.

Buffalo Area Sites Used in the Film “Marshall”

The old Central Terminal in Buffalo received a huge makeover to resemble the Bridgeport, Connecticut railway station.  The restorations cost $90,000 as walls were transformed with faux marble finishes.  A well-known tavern on the outskirts of Buffalo was the setting for a bar scene.  An historic suburban train depot from 1912 was altered into a scene from Mississippi, containing “whites only” signs.  Local persons were used for bit parts, but are not certain that they will survive the film edits that occur.  One local loaned his 1939 Ford sedan for a scene in the production.


Chadwick BosemanCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                    Chadwick Boseman                                                                                                                                                  Wikimedia

The Dillon Courthouse

The Dillon Courthouse, which closed when a new one was built, became the Bridgeport Court House where most of the film takes place.  The Statler Hotel’s Rendezvous Room, which is used for private events, became Minton’s Playhouse, a Harlem jazz club where famous stars like Billie Holliday performed.

Buffalo’s Distinctive City Hall    

The steps of Buffalo’s Art Deco City Hall were the courthouse steps in the film.  Its hallways served as the courthouse hallways.  Two North Buffalo homes, each located on a corner, were used in the film.  Several pre-40’s homes were featured as a backdrop for a long driving scene.


Buffalo City HallCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                 Buffalo, NY City Hall                                                                                                                                                Wikimedia

The City of Niagara Falls

The LaSalle Library in Niagara Falls owned intact jail cells which were used in the film.  Its offices became the office of Sam Friedman, the attorney who worked with Marshall.  Dill’s Tavern on Military Road had a tin ceiling, an old phone booth, and vintage wood tables and chairs, which were all commandeered for a bar scene.

Buffalo Hospitality

The crew was impressed with the hospitality of the citizens of Buffalo during their month-long stay.  At one of the Buffalo homes, a neighbor brought a box of granola bars out to the crew.  This is typical Buffalo hospitality.  Its citizens will most likely pack the movie theaters when the film finally comes to town.

Casting for “Marshall”

The producers of “Marshall” have cast Chadwick Boseman as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.  In 1941, the young lawyer was sent by the NAACP to defend a black chauffeur against his wealthy socialite employer in a trial involving sexual assault and attempted murder by the chauffeur.  The trial received much publicity.  Marshall was assisted in the trial by a young Jewish lawyer, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who had never before tried a case.


Josh GadCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                               Josh Gad - Wikimedia

Racism is Rampant

The judge did not allow Marshall, an experienced criminal lawyer, to speak in the courtroom because of his race.  Therefore, Sam Friedman had to conduct the entire trial as Thurgood mentored him step-by-step on how to try the case.  Black servants were fired throughout New York and Connecticut due to the negative publicity given to the case.  Racism was alive and well in New England at that time.

The Trial

A former model, Ellie Strubing, was married to a Princeton football player.  Joseph Spell was hired as a chauffeur and butler at the Strubing estate in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Ellie Strubing was found walking listlessly with her clothes soaking wet next to a dam in Westchester County, New York.  Joseph Spell was arrested and underwent a 16-hour interrogation by Greenwich police who claimed that Spell had confessed to raping the woman. 

The Acquittal

Thurgood Marshall was hoping for a high-profile victory but was up against a segregationist court.  He and Friedman struggled against hostility born of fear and prejudice, but were driven to discover the truth in this sensational trial which helped to lay the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement which had not yet materialized.  Despite their upward battle, Marshall and Friedman were able to achieve an acquittal for Joseph Spell.

Thurgood Marshall’s Academic Life

Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland.  Throughout his academic career, he was an above-average student.  He attended Lincoln University, an historically black college in Pennsylvania.  Langston Hughes, the great poet and Cab Calloway, the famous jazz singer were his classmates.  After graduating from Lincoln with honors in 1930, Marshall applied to the University of Maryland Law School.  In spite of being overqualified academically, Marshall was rejected because of his race.

Rejection by the University of Maryland


Howard University Law SchoolCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                          Howard University Law School - Wikimedia

Marshall applied to the University of Maryland Law School. Despite being overqualified academically, Marshall was rejected because of his race.  This was his first experience with discrimination in the educational world, and it made a lasting impression on him, setting him on the path of his future efforts toward racial equality.  Instead of the University of Maryland, Marshall attended law school in Washington, D.C. at the historically black school, Howard University. He graduated magna cum laude from Howard in 1933.

Post-Graduate Activities

After graduation, he went to work for the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACPP.

Over the next several decades, Marshall argued and won a variety of cases which struck down numerous forms of legalized racism, leading him to advance the cause of the American Civil Rights Movement. 

Brown v. Board of Education

Thurgood Marshall’s greatest achievement was his victory in 1954 when he fought for and won the Brown v. Board of Education case, whereby the Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools.


Lyndon JohnsonCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                Pres. Lyndon Johnson                                                                                                                                               Wikimedia                                                 

The First African-American Justice of the Supreme Court

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall as the first African-American Justice of the Supreme Court, where he served for 24 years.  When he retired in 1991, he was replaced by Justice Clarence Thomas.  Marshall passed away on January 24, 1993 at the age of 84.