As the legendary civil rights leader and chief counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1938 to 1961, Thurgood Marshall did more than anyone else in the cause for justice, changing the face of America. There’s little disagreement that Thurgood Marshall was one of the most successful constitutional lawyers of the 20th century, serving as a symbol of hope and courage for all Americans.
It was nearly five decades ago in July 1967, that Thurgood Marshall received the historic confirmation, becoming the first black American named a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Yes, few Americans have done more than Thurgood Marshall to set the nation on the right course in the field of civil rights, breaking down barriers to American racial justice. Using every fiber of his body to make America a better place for all its citizens, his most important achievement was his effort at ending the government’s support and sanction of racial inequality.
Having lived the results of “separate but equal” treatment, witnessing firsthand many of the inequities, Marshall devoted his life to fighting for the ideals and principles contained in America’s founding documents, making him a champion of individual freedoms and human rights. According to one of Marshall’s assistants, “he(Marshall) used to work like hell and way into the night.”
During his work as chief counsel for the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall’s greatest victory came on May 17, 1954 with the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court ruling. In the Brown decision, the Supreme Court ruled that state laws requiring public schools to be segregated by race were unconstitutional. Part of Marshall’s argument was “slavery is perpetuated” by state laws requiring classrooms to be segregated. Thurgood Marshall will forever be associated with that May 17, 1954, historic day on which the Warren Court handed down its unanimous ruling, citing the harmful effects of segregation on the hearts and minds of black students. Furthermore, this historic Supreme Court ruling did much to help bring about the legal demise of Jim Crow, leading us on the way to ending government sanctioned segregation.
In 1961, with the appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the United States Appeals Court for the Second Circuit, by President Kennedy, he was on his way to making more history. And in 1965, President Johnson appointed Marshall the highest ranking black government official in American history, naming him the U.S. Solicitor General in the Department of Justice.
It was in July 1967, following President Johnson’s historic appointment of Thurgood Marshall as the first black justice to the Supreme Court, that the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted hearings to confirm his nomination.
Today, in the wake of police-involved shootings and the tragedy in Dallas, there is a need for all people of good will to come together to renew the American dream of justice, and in the spirit of Thurgood Marshall, we must insist that this nation live up to the Constitution.
Larry Sutton is a retired Clinton High School history teacher.