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Marshall, Thurgood (1908-1993)

Thurgood Marshall was an American civil rights activist with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.  He is remembered as a lawyer who had one of the highest rates of success before the Supreme Court and the principal counsel in a number of landmark court cases.  Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the high court. 

Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland, the great-grandson of a slave.  His father, William Marshall, a railroad porter, instilled in him an appreciation of the Constitution at an early age. When young Marshall got in trouble at school he was required to memorize sections of the US Constitution.   His mother, Norma Arica Williams, an elementary school teacher for 25 years, placed great emphasis on his overall scholarship. 

Marshall grew up in Baltimore, graduating from Frederick Douglass High School in the city in 1925 and from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1930.  Marshall, who had decided to become an attorney, was rejected by the University of Maryland School of Law in 1930 because of his race.  He instead entered Howard University Law School, graduating in 1933.  After initially setting up a private practice in Baltimore, he in 1934 began his long history with the NAACP.  He won his first major legal victory as an NAACP lawyer the following year on behalf of Donald Gaines Murray, a black student, who like Marshall was also denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School.  With that victory Marshall now realized the courts could be a powerful weapon against racial discrimination.

Marshall’s most famous case was the legal challenge on behalf of Linda Brown and twelve other plaintiffs that would result in the U.S. Supreme Courts landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954.  Here the high court struck down an earlier Supreme Courts 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, declaring that “separate but equal” public education was

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