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Thurgood Marshall was leader in the struggle against racial discrimination in the United States for a good part of the 20th century. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, he graduated from Howard University Law in Washington, DC, in 1933. He served as chief staff lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1936 to 1961, during which time he started the organization’s Legal Defense and Education Fund to fight for racial justice.
While at the NAACP, Marshall argued several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which ruled segregation of public schools by race is unconstitutional. Realizing the struggle was not over, after the decision he warned, “I don’t want any of you to fool yourselves, it’s just begun; the fight has just begun.”
After serving as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then Solicitor General of the United States, he went on to become the first African American Supreme Court justice, having been nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson on June 13, 1967.
This photograph was taken on the day of his nomination to the High Court. Photographed by Yoichi Robert Okamoto, President Johnson’s official photographer, Marshall has his classic mustache and horned-rimmed glasses.
Marshall served on the Supreme Court for 24 years, retiring in 1991 for health reasons. Upon Marshall’s death on January 24, 1993, President Bill Clinton issued a Presidential Proclamation saying:
Perhaps no other American lawyer has had more impact on the current meaning and content of the U.S. Constitution. As the leading attorney for the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Education Fund, Justice Marshall’s twenty-nine victories before the U.S. Supreme Court breathed life into the text of the Fourteenth Amendment and guaranteed all Americans equality and liberty in their individual choices concerning voting, housing, education, and travel. As an appeals court judge, the Solicitor General of the United States and, finally, Supreme Court Justice, he worked tirelessly to expand and protect his vision of justice for America. As our Nation begins to chart its course for the next century, it is fitting that we pause to honor and remember the courageous, purposeful life of Thurgood Marshall.
Read more about Thurgood Marshall in the blog posts Honoring Justice Thurgood Marshall: the right man and the right place and “The Long Siege”: Thurgood Marshall’s Other Court Nomination Battle.
Visit the National Archives website to learn more about our Black History Month virtual events and resources related to African American history.