Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. He became interested in the U.S. Constitution at an early age when he was forced to read it after being punished by his second grade teacher. He graduated from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln College in 1930, but was denied admission from the University of Maryland Law School because he was Black. Instead, he graduated from Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. in 1933. Soon after graduation, he set up his own law practice in Baltimore.
In 1934, Marshall won his first major case. He argued for a Black Amherst College graduate who was denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School under its “Separate but Equal” rule. The graduate’s named was Donald Gaines Murray. Murray, and all Black applicants, were forced to attend one of three “other” schools affiliated with the university. Marshall argued that the “other” schools did not offer law classes and were certainly not “equal” to the University of Maryland. In a surprise verdict, the judge agreed with Marshall and ruled that the university had no right to interpret the Constitution in a biased manner.
In 1940, Marshall was named Chief Counsel for the NAACP (National Associated for the Advancement of Colored People). He would continue to win major civil rights cases, including the landmark Brown vs The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954). At the time, Black students could not attend the same schools as White students. Instead, they atteneded schools that were deemed “separate but equal”. In this case, Brown argued before the Supreme Court of the United States of America that “separate but equal” education could never truly be equal. Schools attended by Black students were poorly funded, had few resources, and were often in terrible condition. The Supreme Court sided with Marshall, and all American public schools were eventually integrated. From that point on, Black students were entitled to the same education, in the same facilities, as all other students.
In 1967, president Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Thurgood to the United States Supreme Court. He was the first Black person in history to sit on the Supreme Court. Marshall served on the Supreme Court for 24 years and became known as a crusader for civil rights, and the constitutional protection for all individuals. He was also known as a strong opponent of the death penalty. Thurgood retired from the Supreme Court in 1991. He died two years later in 1993.
Today, schools, highways, and public institutions are named for Thurgood Marshall. The same University of Maryland that denied him admission because of their “separate but equal” policy recently renamed their law library after him. In 2005, Baltimore/Washington International Airport was renamed Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.