Thurgood Marshall and other lawyers celebrating the May 17, 1954, Brown v. Board of Education victory.


Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 - January 24, 1993)


AUDIO: Thurgood Marshall -- speaking in 1978 at Howard University Law School about Segregation and Civil Rights:

Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908. His original name was Thoroughgood but he shortened it to Thurgood in second grade. His father, William Marshall, instilled in him an appreciation for the United States Constitution and the rule of law. Additionally, as a child, he was punished for his school misbehavior by being forced to read the Constitution, which he later said piqued his interest in the document. Marshall was the grandson of a slave.    

Marshall graduated from Lincoln University, PA in 1930. Afterward, Marshall wanted to apply to his hometown law school at the University of Maryland School of Law, but the dean told him that he shouldn't bother because he would not be accepted due to the school's segregation policy. Later, as a civil rights litigator, he successfully sued the school for this policy in the case Murray v. Pearson. Instead, Marshall sought admission and was accepted at Howard University. He was influenced by its dynamic new dean, Charles Hamilton Houston, who instilled in his students the desire to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans. 

Marshall received his law degree from Howard in 1933, and set up a private practice in Baltimore. The following year, he began working with the Baltimore NAACP. He won his first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478 (1936). This involved the first attempt to chip away at Plessy v. Ferguson, a plan created by his co-counsel on the case Charles Hamilton Houston. Marshall represented Donald Gaines Murray, a black Amherst College graduate with excellent credentials who had been denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because of its separate but equal policies. This policy required black students to accept one of three options, attend: Morgan College, the Princess Anne Academy, or out-of-state black institutions. In 1935, Thurgood Marshall argued the case for Murray, showing that neither of the in-state institutions offered a law school and that such schools were entirely unequal to the University of Maryland. Marshall and Houston expected to lose and intended to appeal to the federal courts. 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 now must furnish equality of treatment now". Because the state did not appeal the ruling in the federal courts, this state ruling under the U.S. Constitution was the first to overturn Plessy. While it was a moral precedent, it had no authority outside the state of Maryland.

Marshall won his first Supreme Court case, Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940). That same year, he was appointed Chief counsel for the NAACP. He argued many other cases before the Supreme Court, most of them successfully.  His most famous case as a lawyer was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)  in which the Supreme Court eradicated the "separate but equal" doctrine in public education.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961. A group of Democratic Party Senators led by Mississippi's James Eastland and West Virginia's Robert Byrd held up his confirmation, so he served for the first several months under a recess appointment. Marshall remained on that court until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him Solicitor General.

On June 13, 1967, President Johnson appointed 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 served on the Court for the next twenty-four years, compiling a liberal record that included strong support for Constitutional protection of individual rights, especially the rights of criminal suspects against the government.

(Biographical Information obtained from Wikipedia)


Charles Hamilton Houston (September 3, 1895ľApril 22, 1950)

Charles Hamilton Houston led the legal strategy leading to the end of legalized racial segregation in the United States. He and those he taught and mentored laid the legal groundwork that ultimately led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision.  Houston died four years before full fruition of his work to end "separate but equal" as a valid constitutional principle.

Houston completed high school at the age of 15 and graduated as one of six valedictorians from Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1915. He then taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., for two years until the onset of World War I whereupon Houston enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Europe as a second lieutenant in field artillery.

As a result of some of his experiences in the segregated and racist army, Houston decided that he needed to become an advocate to enforce the legal rights of the oppressed. In pursuit of this,3 following his honorable discharge from the army in 1919, Houston enrolled at Harvard Law School from which he earned his Bachelor of Laws in 1922 and a doctorate in 1923. Houston was a stellar student and became the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. He studied law at the University of Madrid until 1924 when he returned to Washington, DC, and joined his father's law practice.

Houston is recognized as the architect behind the ultimate success of the long struggle to end legalized discrimination and, in particular, the "separate but equal" doctrine accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson. Houston, together with a select group of mostly Howard lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall, and working through the NAACP and later the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, created a number of precedents that ultimately led to the dismantling of de jure discrimination after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, four years after his death. Among the major steps were Pearson v. Murray (1936) and State ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1939). In Pearson Houston and Thurgood Marshall established in the Maryland highest court that the University of Maryland could not exclude African Americans as it had excluded Marshall just a few years earlier. In Gaines this principle was extended to the entire country when the U.S. Supreme Court held that Missouri could not exclude blacks from the state law school since there was no comparable, and could be no comparable school for African Americans because of the unique intangibles of a legal education, in Missouri. Ultimately this precedent was extended to other schools and ultimately down to public primary and secondary education.


Other Attorneys Involved in the Brown v. Board Case

Robert L. Carter Julian R. Dugas Jack Greenberg

AUDIO: Jack Greenberg -- on Tavis Smiley Show

William H. Hastie
George E. C. Hayes
A. Leon Higginbotham
Oliver W. Hill
William Robert Ming, Jr.

Constance Baker Motley
James M. Nabrit, Jr.
Spottswood W. Robinson, III

Organizations Involved in Brown v. Board


National Association for the Advancement of Colored People