Born: July 2, 1908 Died: January 24, 1993
Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American member of the U.S. Supreme Court. He served on the court from 1967 until he retired in 1991. Earlier in his career, Marshall worked as a lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and helped win the 1954 landmark desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Throughout his life, Marshall used the law to promote civil rights and social justice.
A Career in Law
After graduating from Howard University Law School in 1933, Thurgood Marshall worked at his own law practice for three years. Then he went to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall worked on many important cases while at the NAACP.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Marshall was the chief staff lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall and the NAACP were trying to change the current law, which said states could have separate schools for blacks and whites as long as they were equal.
In 1951, Clarendon County, South Carolina, spent more than three times as much on each white child’s education as it did on each black child. A black Clarendon County principal asked black parents to file a lawsuit to demand better schools for their children. The case became known as Briggs v. Elliott, and Marshall led the team of NAACP lawyers.
When Briggs went to trial, Marshall showed how little money was spent on schools for black children and how their schools were not equal to schools that white children attended.
The court agreed that the schools were not equal but said that separate schools were legal as long as Clarendon County made the schools for blacks as good as those for whites. Marshall disagreed. He said the schools would never be equal as long and there were separate schools.
He took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. There were four other similar cases before the court, so all the cases were joined together and called Brown v. Board of Education.
After many months, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with Marshall. He won a great victory, but there was still a long road to travel before everyone had the same civil rights in America.
By 1961, Marshall was ready for a change and needed to earn more money to support his family. Marshall thought he might get a job at a private law firm, but President John F. Kennedy had a different idea: President Kennedy asked Marshall to become a federal judge for the United States Court of Appeals in New York. However, just the fact that the president had appointed Marshall didn’t mean that he would get the job. According to the Constitution, federal judges must be approved by the Senate.
Racism was strong in many parts of the country. Some people did not want Marshall, a black lawyer who had been a leader in the civil rights movement, to become a judge. Some senators held up his appointment for almost a year. Finally, in 1962, the Senate gave its approval and Marshall became a federal judge. Marshall was very good at his job, but, as Marshall said, “Once you get to become a judge, you want to get on the Supreme Court.”
In 1965, Marshall got a request from another president. President Lyndon Johnson wanted him to become the solicitor general. The solicitor general is the lawyer who represents the United States government in all Supreme Court cases.
Marshall hoped the job might lead to an appointment to the Supreme Court. He was right. President Johnson appointed Marshall to the United States Supreme Court in 1967. He was the first African-American Supreme Court justice. President Johnson said it was “the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.” Although there was some dissent, the country had changed and Marshall was approved by the Senate. Thurgood Marshall served on the Supreme Court for twenty-four years.
1. Thurgood Marshall was not a
a. Supreme Court justice.b. lawyer.c. proponent of civil rights.d. governor.
2. According to the passage, how did Justice Marshall aid the civil rights movement?
a. He led marches alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.b. He sent many Klansmen to jail.c. He represented the government in all Supreme Court cases.d. He helped to desegregate American schools.
3. Why do you think Thurgood Marshall went to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) ?
4. How did the court’s decision in Briggs v. Elliott show that the law of “separate but equal” was not being upheld?
a. It stated that Clarendon Country did not follow the law.b.It won a great victory.c. It proved that counties did not spend equal amounts of money on black schools.d. It proved that segregation was illegal.
4. Which of the following is something that Justice Marshall might have stated?
a. “Schools will never be equal as long as they are separate.”b.“ ‘Separate but equal’ must be upheld.”c. “Children receive the same advantages whether or not they attend separate schools.”d.“Segregation was acceptable a hundred years ago, but not today.”
5. Why was Thurgood Marshall a landmark justice on the Supreme Court?
a. He was the first white Supreme Court justice to vote in favor of desegregation.
b. He was the first African American to sit on the court.
c. He served the Supreme Court for 24 years.
d. He was the youngest man ever appointed to the Supreme Court.
6. Who appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court?
a. President Lyndon B. Johnson
b. President Robert F. Kennedy
c. the NAACP
d. the Senate
7. What did Thurgood Marshall’s appointment to the Supreme Court reflect?