JUNE 13, 1967

Portrait of Thurgood Marshall

President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated the first Black American, then-Solicitor General Thurgood Marshall, to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it was “the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.” 

But his push for a legal career began with disappointment. He wanted to attend the University of Maryland Law School, but the institution refused to open its doors to Black students. He wound up graduating first in his class at Howard University Law School. One of his first victories came against the University of Maryland, which had rejected a Black applicant on the basis of race alone. 

Attorney Charles Hamilton Houston began serving as his mentor when he became a staff lawyer for the NAACP in 1936. Four years later, Marshall founded and became the executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. At age 32, he won his first U.S. Supreme Court victory when justices overturned the convictions of four Black men in Florida who “confessed” after they were beaten. 

He went on to win an incredible 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the high court, most notably the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ended racial segregation in schools. 

The Senate confirmed his nomination by a 69-11 margin, and he served a quarter century on the high court. He once described his legal philosophy as “you do what you think is right and let the law catch up” — a comment that drew him criticism. The law school at Texas Southern University now bears his name. 

In 2017, Chadwick Boseman portrayed the future justice in the movie, “Marshall”, featuring a 1940 case the NAACP lawyer took on, successfully representing a Black man accused of rape by a White socialite. 

Before his death, Marshall advised, “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.”

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