What comes to mind when we think of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall?
Intelligent. Powerful. Activist. Strong. Fighter. Winner.
Born July 2nd, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland, Thurgood Marshall was the great-grandson of slaves. He was a smart young man growing up with goals to go to college then become a dentist. During high school he would get into trouble in the classroom and as his teacher’s disciplinary action, Marshall was instructed to memorize parts of the U.S. Constitution. To give you an idea of just how many times he found himself in a little trouble, by the time he had graduated from high school, Marshall had memorized the entire U.S. Constitution. September of 1926, he went on to attend college in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Lincoln University.
Marshall had always held 2-3 part-time positions to make ends meet. He was a very skilled speaker; capable of persuading any crowd with his oratory skills. Embracing this skill, Marshall decided to change his course of study to law in his second year of college.
After being rejected from his first choice university — Maryland Law School — because of his race, Marshall went on to attend one of the most well-known historically black colleges today, Howard University. During his time at Howard, Marshall became an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1933, not only did Marshall graduate first in his class, he also passed the bar exam later that year.
He began fighting significant civil rights cases and made equality a reality for blacks. “Overall between 1940 and 1961, Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court,” (about.com).
In December of 1952, Marshall argued the infamous Brown v Board of Education case before the U.S. Supreme Court. This case was like no other. No longer were the NAACP and Marshall fighting for the segregated equal in “separate but equal” (Plessy v Ferguson 1896), but they were fighting for equal. Period.
May 17, 1954 the court ruled unanimously in Marshall’s favor. October 2, 1967, Thurgood Marshall became Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Marshall served from the age of 59 to 82.
“Today’s Constitution is a realistic document of freedom only because of several corrective amendments. Those amendments speak to a sense of decency and fairness [to all].”
“Customary greeting to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, ‘What’s shaking, chiefy baby?'”
– Thurgood Marshall
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The law is a fascinating subject. Knowledge of your country’s Constitution gives you power – just as it did for Marshall. Also, having the confidence and ambition to pursue your goal(s), whether if you started out with that goal or if it came into fruition years later after starting something totally different, takes strength and hard-work that we all possess. Like Nike says, Just Do It.
We want to know what path you chose – was it easy? Did you start out with this same path? Has it remained the same since you chose it? Comment below and let us know :)
- Thurgood Marshall: Warrior at the Bar, Rebel on the Bench