Black in the Day…A Supreme Leader

October 2, 1967:

 

On this day, Chief Justice Earl Warren swore in Thurgood Marshall as the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice in the nation’s history.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Marshall graduated from the Howard University School of Law in 1933. He established a private legal practice in Baltimore before founding the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where he served as execuhtive director. As the NAACP’s chief counsel from 1938 to 1961, Marshall argued more than a dozen cases before the Supreme Court, repeatedly and successfully challenging racial segregation, most notably in public education. He won nearly all of these cases, including a groundbreaking victory in 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which the high tribunal overturned earlier rulings and decided that segregation violated the equal rights clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. After Brown, Marshall argued many more court cases in support of civil rights. His zeal for ensuring the rights of all citizens regardless of race caught the attention of President John F. Kennedy, who appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson appointed him to the post of Solicitor General (this person argues cases on behalf of the U.S. government before the Supreme Court; it is the third highest office in the Justice Department). Finally, in 1967, President Johnson appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court. Until his retirement from the Court in 1991, Marshall continued to strive to protect the rights of all citizens. Thurgood Marshall died in 1993, leaving behind a legacy that earned him the nickname “Mr. Civil Rights.” Before his funeral, his flag-draped casket was laid in state in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court. He was only the second justice to be given this honor.

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