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Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908. He graduated in 1930 from Lincoln University and in 1933 from Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C., ranking first in his class.
Marshall began his legal career as counsel to the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He joined the Association's national legal staff in 1936 and in 1938 became its Chief Legal Officer.
In 1940, the NAACP created the Legal Defense and Education Fund, with Marshall as its director and Counsel. Marshall coordinated the NAACP effort to end racial segregation for the next twenty years.
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. Other cases argued by Thurgood Marshall include:
- Smith v. Allwright, 1944 - Which ruled that a Southern state's exclusion of African-American voters from primary elections was unconstitutional.
- Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948 - Which ruled that state judicial enforcement of racial "restrictive covenants" in housing was unconstitutional.
- Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 1950 - both of these cases ruled against the concept of "separate but equal" facilities for African-American professionals and graduate students in state universities.
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This was followed four years later by his appointment to Solicitor General of the United States by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
President Johnson then nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court of the United States on June 13, 1967. After lengthy and often very heated debate the Senate confirmed the appointment on August 30, 1967, making Justice Marshall the first African-American Justice to sit on the Supreme Court. Marshall served 23 years on the Supreme Court, retiring on June 27, 1991, at the age of 82. Justice Marshall died on January 24, 1993.
*From: The Supreme Court of the United States: Its Beginnings and its Justices, 1790-1991. Washington, DC: The Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, 1992.
Additional biographical links :
- National Portrait Gallery
- The Oyez Project, Northwestern University School of Law
- Young Thurgood, book by Professor Larry Gibson
- The Reminiscences of Thurgood Marshall, A transcript of four tape recorded interviews with Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall conducted in February 1977.
Related Research Guides
For more information please see: African Americans in the Law Special Collection and NetLibrary: Civil Rights Law and History E-book Collection.