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Thurgood Marshall: The First Black Supreme Court Justice

Thurgood Marshall joined the Supreme Court in 1967.

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Thurgood Marshall was the first African American to join the U.S. Supreme Court. He spent his adult life fighting racist laws. Marshall went to Lincoln University, which was a historically Black college in Pennsylvania. In 1930, Marshall tried to apply to the University of Maryland Law School. He met all the requirements, but he wasn’t allowed to attend because he was black. Instead, he chose to attend law school at Howard University, another historically black college.

Early Career

Marshall graduated from law school in 1933 and tried starting his own practice. Since he did not have experience, he was not hired for many cases. However, the next year, he started working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1936, he moved to New York City to work full time for the organization.

At this point in his career, Marshall was finally able to begin working on big civil rights cases. He won an impressive number of cases that helped end many policies that were designed to discriminate against African Americans.

In Murray v. Pearson, Marshall joined helped defend Donald Murray, a qualified student who had been rejected by the University of Maryland Law School just as Marshall had been. They won the case, and the matter became the first in a long series of cases to end segregation in universities.

Chambers v. Florida was a case in which Marshall defended four black men who were convicted of murder. He won the case because it turned out that police officers had forced the men to confess to a murder they did not commit.

But Marshall’s landmark case was Brown v. Board of Education, which occurred in 1954. He represented a group of black parents in Topeka, Kansas, where schools were segregated. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools violated the 14th Amendment. While it took years for the ruling to be implemented in all states, it was the beginning of desegregating one of America’s education system.

President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 nominated Marshall to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. He was sworn in that year. As a justice, he presided over a series of important cases. After he retired, Clarence Thomas, another black American, replaced him.

Race Relations & Media Affairs Correspondent at and A self-confessed news and political junkie, Jeff’s writing has been featured in Small Business Trends, Business2Community, and The Huffington Post. Born in Southern California and having experienced the 1992 L.A. Riots up close and personal, Jeff’s insights are informed by his experiences as a black man and a conservative.

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