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Black History Month Spotlight: Thurgood Marshall and Justice

Throughout Black History Month, we are recognizing the significant contributions African Americans have made—and continue to make—for the betterment of our city, country, and world.

We want to have a conversation with you, too. Throughout February, we will spotlight on our blog and Facebook page an African American who embodied one of our four core values—one value each week and somebody who lived out the value of dignity, justice, community, or impact. We hope you follow along and join us in honoring their contributions.

Justice: We confront systems and policies that deprive our participants and their communities of choice and opportunity.

“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”

Thurgood Marshall was an American lawyer who was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1967. He was the first African-American to hold the position and served for 24 years, until 1991. As counsel to the NAACP, he utilized the judiciary to champion equality for African Americans. In 1954, he won the Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools.

Read his full biography here.

Marshall attended Baltimore’s Colored High and Training School (later renamed Frederick Douglass High School), where he was an above-average student and put his finely honed skills of argument to use as a star member of the debate team. After graduating from high school in 1926, Marshall attended Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania.

After graduating from Lincoln with honors in 1930, Marshall applied to the University of Maryland Law School. Despite being overqualified academically, Marshall was rejected because of his race. This firsthand experience with discrimination in education made a lasting impression on Marshall and helped determine the future course of his career.

Instead of Maryland, Marshall attended law school in Washington, D.C. at Howard University, another historically black school.

In 1934, Thurgood Marshall began working for the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1936, Marshall moved to New York City to work full time as legal counsel for the NAACP. Over several decades, Marshall argued and won a variety of cases to strike down many forms of legalized racism, helping to inspire the American civil rights movement.

In 1961, newly-elected President John F. Kennedy appointed Thurgood Marshall as a judge for the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1965, Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, appointed Marshall to serve as the first black U.S. solicitor general, the attorney designated to argue on behalf of the federal government before the Supreme Court. On October 2, 1967, Marshall was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, becoming the first African American to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Thurgood Marshall stands alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as one of the greatest and most important figures of the American civil rights movement.

Read his full biography here.