Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the son of William and Norma Marshall. His father was a railroad porter and his mother was an elementary school teacher. Thurgood grew up in a middle-class family and they made education a priority to him and his brother William Marshall Junior. Even though they grew up in segregation, his parents believed in the United States Constitution. They believed in the importance of law and order. They were also known as advocates around Baltimore for their fights for equality and social justice. Thurgood's parents encouraged their children to learn, listen, and be able to logically make their arguments on any subject. He often gave them credit for planting the seed for him to become a lawyer. Marshall attended all-black Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore. He was a gifted, occasionally disruptive student. As a part of his punishment, his teachers would order him memorize sections of the United States Constitution. By the time he graduated from high school at the age of 16, he had remarkably memorized the Constitution! This gave him the confidence to pursue law as a career when he graduated from high school in 1925.
He attended historically black Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Marshall participated in a successful sit-in that objected to the segregated policies of the local movie theater. Thurgood also pledged and became a member of the first black fraternity in America, Alpha Phi Alpha. After graduating from Lincoln, he applied for admission into the University of Maryland Law School in 1930. However, he was denied admission because of their segregated admissions policy. This enraged Marshall, and he used this discrimination to fuel his desire and will to fight for social justice. Marshall attended historically black Howard University and received his law degree in 1933.
Ironically, in the same year, he sued in the University of Maryland on behalf of Donald Gaines Murray whom had been denied admission because he was black. Thurgood Marshall won this case and the University was forced to admit Murray. In 1938, he became the chief counsel of the NAACP(National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and won a remarkable 29 out of 32 Supreme Court cases. His most famous Supreme Court victory came in 1954, when he took on the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in public education.
Marshall's outstanding record came to the attention of President John F. Kennedy. In 1961, he appointed Thurgood Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. From 1961-1965, he issued more than 100 court decisions, and remarkably, none of them were overturned by the Supreme Court. In 1965, he was appointed as the first black United States Solicitor General. In this position, he argued on behalf of the federal government before the Supreme Court. He won 14 out of 19 cases. President Lyndon B. Johnson decided that it was time for America to have an African-American Supreme Court Justice. On June 13, 1967, Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall for the court. After a couple of months of deliberation, Marshall was confirmed by the United States Senate. On August 30, 1967, he became the first black Supreme Court Justice.
He served on the court until his retirement in 1991 and was an honest, fair, and dedicated justice. Marshall was a liberal judge and believed in protecting the Constitution. He believed in equal and protection under the law. He felt that the court should work to change the laws in America that unfairly affected blacks, and other disadvantaged groups. Thurgood Marshall pushed for race-conscious laws that addressed the damaging effects of slavery and racial segregation. In his 24 years on the court, he opposed all efforts to burden women the right to obtain abortions. Two years after stepping down from the court, Thurgood Marshall died of heart failure at the age of 84 on January 24, 1993. Thurgood Marshall spent his life fighting for equal rights of all Americans, regardless of their race, gender, or religion. He gave a voice to disadvantaged Americans and did not let his race stop him from succeeding in America. We all owe him a debt that we can never repay.
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