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Published on: Monday, July 8, 2024 read more ...

Thurgood Marshall

Gravestone of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

Section 5, Grave 40-3

Appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, Thurgood Marshall was the first African American Supreme Court justice, and the only black justice during his 24-year tenure. 

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Marshall attended segregated public schools and experienced racism firsthand. Rejected from the University of Maryland School of Law because he was black, Marshall attended Howard University Law School, graduating first in his class in 1933. After graduation, Marshall began practicing law in his hometown of Baltimore. In his first major court victory, in 1935 he successfully sued the University of Maryland Law School for denying admission to a black applicant on the grounds of race. In 1940, he founded and served as executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In that position, he argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court — including Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which held that the racial segregation of public schools violated the Constitution. Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases that he argued before the Supreme Court. 

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and in 1965 President Johnson appointed him as Solicitor General — making him, at the time, the highest-ranking black government official in U.S. history. 

On the Supreme Court, Marshall consistently defended the constitutional protection of individual rights, including the rights of criminal defendants. He also continued advocating for the civil rights of African Americans and other minorities. He famously described his legal philosophy as, "You do what you think is right, and the law will catch up." Marshall's clerks included current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and such renowned law professors as Cass Sunstein and Randall L. Kennedy.