Thurgood Marshall was one of the architects of Brown v. Board of Education, and was the lead counsel arguing against the separate but equal rule of Plessy v. Ferguson. Charles Hamilton Houston was his mentor at and after Marshall attended Howard University School of Law. He went on to be the first African American to sit on the United States Supreme Court.
Marshall was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. He did well through high school and graduated from Lincoln University, a small private historically black university, in Pennsylvania in 1930. He applied to the University of Maryland School of Law in 1930, but was denied admission. He then went to Howard University School of Law, in Washington, DC.
In 1933 Thurgood Marshall graduated as valedictorian of HUSL and became a civil rights activist. In 1938 he became an attorney for the NAACP and in 1940 became the NAACP's chief counsel and founder of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Among the many precedent-setting cases he argued were Smith v. Allwright (1944) in which the Court held that the exclusion of black voters from primary elections in Texas was unconstitutional and Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) in which the Court held that racial restrictive covenants in housing were unconstitutional.
But the most well known work done by Thurgood Marshall, along with Charles Hamilton Houston and others, was building the precedents that led to Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954 Brown overruled Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and held "separate but equal" unconstitutional in public schools nationwide. Brown ultimately led to the dismantling of de jure discrimination. Among the major steps toward Brown was Pearson v. Murray (1936) in which Marshall and Houston fittingly established in Maryland's highest court that the University of Maryland School of Law could not exclude African Americans as Maryland had excluded Marshall just a few years earlier. Two years later in Gaines (1938) 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 in Missouri for African Americans because of the unique intangibles of a legal education. The principal was then extended further in a number of cases including Sweatt v. Painter (1950) which declared separate but equal facilities for black professionals and graduate students in state universities unconstitutional.
President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961. He left that court to become President Lyndon B. Johnson's Solicitor General in 1965. In 1967 Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court where he served until he retired in 1991. He was the first African American to serve on the nation's highest court.
Thurgood Marshall died of heart failure on January 24, 1993.
(Biographical information from the Federal Judicial Center, http://www.fjc.gov/history/home.nsf, April 2007
Born 7/2/1908, in Baltimore, MD.
Died 1/24/1993, in Washington, DC.
Federal Judicial Service
Judge, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Received a recess appointment by President John F. Kennedy (Democrat), on 10/05/1961.
Nominated on 01/15/1962; confirmed by the Senate on 09/11/1962; received judicial commission on 09/14/1962.
Service terminated on 08/23/1965 due to resignation.
Judge, Supreme Court of the United States.
Nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson (Democrat) on 06/13/1967; confirmed by the Senate on 08/30/1967; received judicial commission on 08/30/1967.
Assumed senior status on 10/01/1991.
Service terminated on 01/24/1993 due to death.
Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, A.B., 1930.
Howard University School of Law, LL.B., 1933.
Private practice, Baltimore, Maryland, 1933-1937
Counsel, NAACP, Baltimore Regional Office, 1934-1936
Special assistant counsel, NAACP, Baltimore RegionalOffice, 1936-1938
Special counsel, NAACP, Baltimore Regional Office, 1938-1940
Director and counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 1940-1961
Solicitor General of the United States, 1965-1967