Thurgood Marshall

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Marshall, Thurgood,

1908–93, U.S. lawyer and associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1967–91), b. Baltimore. He received his law degree from Howard Univ. in 1933. In 1936 he joined the legal staff of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. As its chief counsel (1938–61), he argued more than 30 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, successfully challenging racial segregation, most notably in higher education. His presentation of the argument against the "separate but equal" doctrine achieved its greatest impact with the landmark decision handed down in Brown v. Board of Education of TopekaBrown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans.,
case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954. Linda Brown was denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka because she was black.
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 (1954). His appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1961 was opposed by some Southern senators and was not confirmed until 1962. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court two years later; he was the first black to sit on the high court, where he consistently supported the position taken by those challenging discrimination based on race or sex, opposed the death penalty, and supported the rights of criminal defendants. His support for affirmative action led to his strong dissent in Regents of the University of California v. BakkeRegents of the University of California v. Bakke,
case decided in 1978 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held in a closely divided decision that race could be one of the factors considered in choosing a diverse student body in university admissions decisions.
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 (1978). As appointments by Presidents Nixon and Reagan changed the outlook of the Court, Marshall found himself increasingly in the minority; in retirement he was outspoken in his criticism of the court.


See M. G. Long, ed., Marshalling Justice: The Early Civil Rights Letters of Thurgood Marshall (2011); biography by J. Williams (1998); studies by R. W. Bland (1973) and H. Ball (1999); R. Kluger, Simple Justice (1976); W. Haygood, Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America (2015).

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Marshall, Thurgood

(1908–93) civil rights advocate, Supreme Court justice; born in Baltimore, Md. The great-grandson of a slave, he graduated as valedictorian from Howard University Law School (1933) and soon began to represent civil rights activists. Becoming a counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1938, during the next 23 years he won 29 of the 32 major cases he undertook for that organization; several of the cases set constitutional precedents in matters such as voting rights and breaking down segregated transportation and education. His finest moment came with Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and its "separate but equal" ruling that perpetuated segregated institutions and facilities. President John F. Kennedy named him to the U.S. Court of Appeals, a seat he finally took over the resistance of Southern senators (1962–65); President Lyndon Johnson appointed him U.S. solicitor general (1965–67) and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first African-American to hold such an office (1967–91). Consistently voting with the liberal block, he found himself increasingly isolated as the court's makeup changed and he was forced by ill health to retire and see his seat taken by the conservative Clarence Thomas.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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