Author Topic: Thurgood Marshall  (Read 2593 times)

Offline DRobinson

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Thurgood Marshall
« on: June 17, 2010, 11:31:35 am »
The Good In Thurgood Marshall
Posted 06/16/2010 05:23 PM ET

Marshall at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., in 1967 after his swearing in as associate justice, a position he held for 24 years. AP View Enlarged Image
Thurgood Marshall came to be revered by many Americans.

As a civil rights activist and lawyer, he argued the case that led the Supreme Court to outlaw segregated public schooling.

Later he became the first black justice on the Supreme Court itself.

For all that, no one was more irreverent about himself than Marshall (1908-1993).

Everyone who knew him, from presidents to law clerks, remembers him as a friendly, light-hearted character, given to telling funny stories and politically incorrect jokes.

Some of those jokes came back to haunt him during confirmation hearings, but that didn't stop him. In 1950 he told Collier's magazine, "I intend to wear life like a very loose garment and never worry about nothin'."

This attitude sometimes led critics to call him unserious.

But Marshall's carefree attitude was a key part of his success. It kept him upbeat through grim events — including attempts on his life.

Marshall's Keys
•Led the legal victory to desegregate public schools and was the first black justice on the Supreme Court.
•"If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his house, what books he may read or what films he may watch."
And it gave Marshall a remarkable charm that let him work with anyone, even diehard opponents. In the sharply divided racial climate of the mid-20th century, he had an almost preternatural ability to schmooze.

"That's how he was," said Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet, a former clerk for Marshall who has written several books about him. "He knew that he was doing very serious work, but he was also doing it in a way that he could enjoy life."

Work And Play

Marshall showed a facility at both from an early age. Growing up in the black middle class of Baltimore, he was something of a hell-raiser at school. But his parents — a waiter and a schoolteacher — were adamant that their children would make something of themselves.

Marshall's father was especially fascinated by the law and sometimes took Thurgood to watch court proceedings.

In 1930, Marshall applied to the University of Maryland's law school, but was rejected because of his race. He was furious, but it only increased his determination to make a difference through the law.

In 1933 he graduated first in his class from Howard University's law school. He also became close friends with the school's dean, Charles Houston, a litigator with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

As soon as Marshall graduated, he and Houston started working together on civil rights cases.

Two years later they avenged Marshall's rejection from Maryland by suing successfully on behalf of another rejected black applicant. Marshall pointed out that no state law school existed for blacks, so it could not reasonably claim to have "separate but equal" facilities.

Maryland's Supreme Court agreed, and in 1936 the NAACP employed Marshall full time.

For the next 20 years, he traveled the country, challenging local segregation laws and helping black defendants he thought were being treated unfairly. This often led him to Southern towns that had no lodging for blacks. So he stayed in private houses.

Things got hairy. In 1946, Marshall went to Columbia, Tenn., to defend two black men charged with rioting and attempted murder. He succeeded in getting one of them off; the other was convicted.

That was too much for some locals. One night, two policemen arrested him for drunken driving and took him off to a secluded spot by a river where angry men waited.


One of Marshall's colleagues followed them, and the police feared another race riot would erupt if the horde lynched the lawyer. So the cops took Marshall back to town, and he and his colleague escaped by sending another driver in the opposite direction in a decoy car.

"And sure enough, the mob was coming around the corner when we left," Marshall said in Juan Williams' 1998 biography, "Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary." "So they followed (the other) car, which we'd hoped they'd do. And incidentally, when they found out I wasn't in it, they beat the driver bad enough that he was in the hospital for a week."

This brush with death didn't stop Marshall from fighting civil rights cases and even befriending opponents. That approach worked even on the unlikeliest people.


In 1952 an NAACP employee, June Shagaloff, was arrested during an attempt to desegregate schools in Cairo, Ill. The authorities refused offers of bail. Enter Marshall. "The police chief ... (was) a fat, slobby, uneducated man with a big, stubby cigar," Shagaloff recounted to Williams. "Mr. Marshall took a straight chair and straddled it ... and just chewed the fat with this police chief. You would think they were old buddies. And that went on for a half-hour, 45 minutes. And finally Mr. Marshall said, 'How about that man's bond that he put up for her, pretty good isn't it?' And the police chief said, 'I guess so.'"

Shagaloff was released.

Meanwhile, Marshall and other NAACP lawyers were challenging segregation on progressively broader legal grounds. After his University of Maryland court victory, Marshall started arguing cases where there were such schools, but they had inferior funding and materials.

By the time the famous Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka came before the Supreme Court in 1953, Marshall was arguing that simply having segregated schools was inherently unequal treatment.

The opposing counsel on the case, John W. Davis, was a man Marshall had watched and admired as a law student at Howard as he argued cases before the Supreme Court.

Even though Davis was such an ardent segregationist that he came out of retirement to argue the case without pay, during the proceedings he and Marshall were seen having dinner together. Marshall defended the action by saying, "It's very important to have a civil relationship with your opponent."

Tushnet says this was true to Marshall's character, and good strategy.

"It affected the way adversaries thought about him — not just about him, but about overcoming racial segregation," he told IBD.

Finally, the Supreme Court ruled in May 1954 that segregated schooling was contrary to equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution.

Marshall was a star and became more and more accepted by the white establishment. Even FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, infamously suspicious of civil rights activists, helped Marshall in his efforts to rid the NAACP of communists. (The purge even took one of the group's founders, W.E.B. Du Bois.)

Marshall had no patience with separatist black activist groups such as the Nation of Islam. Even Martin Luther King's civil disobedience rubbed him the wrong way, since it involved breaking the law.

Still, Marshall put the movement's interests before his own and supported King in public.

High Places

Marshall's stance led to a series of government appointments. In 1961 President Kennedy chose him as a federal appeals court judge, making him only the second black person to hold that position.

In 1965 President Johnson, a Marshall friend, made him solicitor general to the White House.

In 1967 Johnson nominated him to the Supreme Court. Marshall served there for 24 years, retiring two years before his death in 1993.

At his funeral, Chief Justice William Rehnquist pointed to the words at the Supreme Court's entrance, "Equal Justice Under Law." "Surely no one individual did more to make those words a reality than Thurgood Marshall," Rehnquist said.

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: Thurgood Marshall
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2010, 01:21:36 pm »
One of my absolute heroes.  Almost gave my son Thurgood as a middle name.

Offline DRobinson

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Re: Thurgood Marshall
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2010, 01:30:02 pm »
Marshall should be a hero to every American.

His mark on the world will last forever.