Thurgood Marshall

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Personal Life

     Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908. He was the grandson of a slave.His father worked on a train as a waiter, and later became a waiter at a fancy country club that only served white people. His father would go watch court cases in his free time. Thurgood said his father taught him to be able to prove everything that he said. When he got older, he said that his father did not tell him to become a lawyer, but turned him into one. His mother was a school teacher. She knew how important education was. When Thurgood went to college she sold her wedding ring to pay for his schooling. 
     When he was a child, segregation was still very common. Segregation means African Americans and white people were separated in public places. Thurgood Marshall went to high school at Frederick Douglass High School. As a child, he admired the United States Costitution and had it memorized by the time he was 16 years old.  Thurgood attended and graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.  He met his first wife Vivian “Buster” Burey and married her before he graduated from Lincoln University.  She helped him make good grades while he was in school. 
     Thurgood tried to get into the Universty of Maryland Law School, but they would not let him because he was an African American. Because they did not let him in, he wanted to make things better for African Americans. He applied and was accepted to Howard University Law School. Thurgood and Vivian were married for 25 years before she passed away from cancer. A year after she passed away he married Cecilia Suyat, and they had two children.

How He Helped Americans Gain Rights

     Thurgood Marshall used his life to help African Americans gain rights. Thurgood got a law degree and worked as a lawyer. Most of Thurgood Marshall's clients were people who did not make a lot of money. Most of them did not have enough money to pay him, but he helped them anyway. People started to call him the “little man’s lawyer” because he was helping helping people that were not rich or famous. He became known for speaking up for people who were “voiceless”.
       His first court case was in 1933, when he sued the University of Maryland. He wanted the college to allow an African American to attend. He won the case.

Marshall working on the NAACP office
Phto by Terry Lane

     Marshall later became Chief  Counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1954, while working for the NAACP he worked on the Brown versus Board of Education case. He argued that “equal means getting the same thing, at the same time, and in the same place.” He argued that separate schools were not equal. This case ended separate schools in the Untied States.  He continued to fight against segregated housing, parks, beaches, restaurants, buses, and trains.

Team working on Brown vs. Board 
Photo from Afro-American Newspaper

       President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals. While he was working for the Court of Appeals he supported immigrants.          
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the Second Supreme Court of Appeals. In 1967, President Johnson became the Solicitor General of the United States. President Johnson appointed Judge Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967. Marshall became the first African-American to be a member of the Supreme Court. Marshall won 29 out of the 32 cases he presented to the Supreme Court. He won more cases presented to the United States Supreme Court than any other American. He served on the Supreme Court from 1967 until 1991 when he retired.   

Obstacles He Had To Overcome
Photo from the Library of Congress

     Thurgood Marshall’s biggest obstacle he had to overcome was his skin color. In the United States at this time African Americans could not go to the same schools, have the same jobs, or even drink from the same water fountain as white people. Because of this, Marshall was not allowed to attend the Universty of Maryland Law School. He had to work extra hard just because of the color of his skin.

Interesting Facts

-He changed his name from “Thoroughgood” to Thurgood because it was too long to write.
-Marshall got in trouble at high school and was sent to the basement to read and copy the United States Constitution. He had it memorized when he graduated from high school.

-He wanted to be a dentist, but changed his mind.
-After he passed away his body was placed for viewing at the same place Abraham Lincoln’s body was placed.