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Thurgood Marshall: America's First African American Supreme Court Justice

Thurgood Marshall: America's First African American Supreme Court Justice

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Item Number:
20 min.
Closed Caption:
TMW Media Group
Grade Level:
8 - Adult
The great grandson of a slave, Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908. At the age of 25, Marshall graduated first in his class from Howard Law and joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the nation's largest and oldest civil rights organization. As NAACP counsel, Marshall used the constitution to successfully argue for a slew of rights now taken for granted, and forced the University of Maryland Law School to admit its first black student, just five years after that same school had rejected Marshall due to his race. Between 1940 and 1961 Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court, the most significant being the landmark case, Brown v Board of Education. Marshall argued that separate school systems for blacks and whites were inherently unequal, violating the "equal protection clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In September 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson named Marshall the nation's first black Solicitor General to conduct government legal action before the Supreme Court. Two years later on October 2, 1967 at the age of 59, Marshall became the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. President Lyndon Johnson who declared it was "the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place." He never forgot where he came from, consistently ruling in favor of the rights of "organized labor, racial minorities, the advancement of women, the broadening of rights to freedom of expression, and the narrowing of police authority." Harvard Law Professor Randall L. Kennedy wrote. "No member of the Supreme Court has ever been more keenly alive to social inequalities." He remained a champion of individual liberty. As more conservative justices were appointed by Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, he became known as "The Great Dissenter," but remained unwavering in his commitment to liberal precepts. In increasingly poor health, on June 27, 1991 Marshall submitted his resignation to President George H. W. Bush. He was replaced by conservative black Justice Clarence Thomas. Marshall died of heart failure on January 24, 1993 at the age of 84. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Posthumously Thurgood Marshall was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award by President Bill Clinton in November 1993. His words govern how the United States extends its rights to this day.

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