Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993) was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, serving from October 1967 until October 1991. Marshall was the Court's 96th justice and its first African-American justice.
Before becoming a judge, Marshall was a lawyer who was best known for his high success rate in arguing before the Supreme Court and for the victory in Brown v. Board of Education, a decision that desegregated public schools. He served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit after being appointed by President John F. Kennedy and then served as the Solicitor General after being appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. President Johnson nominated him to the United States Supreme Court in 1967.
After graduating from law school, Marshall started a private law practice in Baltimore. He began his 25-year affiliation with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1934 by representing the organization in the law school discrimination suit Murray v. Pearson. In 1936, Marshall became part of the national staff of the NAACP.
In Murray v. Pearson, Marshall represented Donald Gaines Murray, a black Amherst College graduate with excellent credentials, who was denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because of its segregation policy. Black students in Maryland wanting to study law had to attend segregated establishments, Morgan College, the Princess Anne Academy, or out-of-state black institutions. Using the strategy developed by Nathan Margold, Marshall argued that Maryland's segregation policy violated the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson because the state did not provide a comparable educational opportunity at a state-run black institution. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against the state of Maryland and its Attorney General, who represented the University of Maryland, stating, "Compliance with the Constitution cannot be deferred at the will of the state. Whatever system is adopted for legal education must furnish equality of treatment now."
At the age of 32, Marshall won U.S. Supreme Court case Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940). That same year, he founded and became the executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.As the head of the Legal Defense Fund, he argued many other civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, most of them successfully, including Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944); Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948); Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950); and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950). His most famous case as a lawyer was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" public education, as established by Plessy v. Ferguson, was not applicable to public education because it could never be truly equal. In total, Marshall won 29 out of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.
During the 1950s, Thurgood Marshall developed a friendly relationship with J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 1956, for example, he privately praised Hoover's campaign to discredit T.R.M. Howard, a maverick civil rights leader from Mississippi. During a national speaking tour, Howard criticized the FBI's failure to seriously investigate cases such as the 1955 killers of George W. Lee and Emmett Till. In a private letter to Hoover, Marshall "attacked Howard as a 'rugged individualist' who did not speak for the NAACP." Two years earlier Howard arranged for Marshall to deliver a well-received speech at a rally of his Regional Council of Negro Leadership in Mound Bayou, Mississippi only days before the Brown decision. According to historians David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, "Marshall's disdain for Howard was almost visceral. [He] 'disliked Howard's militant tone and maverick stance' and 'was well aware that Hoover's attack served to take the heat off the NAACP and provided opportunities for closer collaboration [between the NAACP and the FBI] in civil rights.'"
On June 13, 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court following the retirement of Justice Tom C. Clark, saying that this was "the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place." Marshall was confirmed as an Associate Justice by a Senate vote of 69–11 on August 30, 1967. He was the 96th person to hold the position, and the first African American.
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