Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise Image Strip of Linda Brown walking to school, girl taking test at desk, Nettie Hunt and daughter with newspaper headline on steps of Supreme Court, present day children raising hands, children at computers
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The History of Brown v. Board of Education Cases and Lawyers
Thurgood Marshall | Oliver W. Hill | Charles Hamilton Houston | Spottswood W. Robinson III | The 5 Cases | Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court text | 14th Amendment text

Thurgood Marshall Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore to William Canfield, a railroad dining-car waiter, and Norma, an elementary school teacher. He received much parental encouragement for his intellectual curiosity and flair for debate, as well as an early grounding in the wrongs of racial injustice. In 1930, Marshall earned an undergraduate degree from Lincoln University, a black liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. After being denied admittance to the University of Maryland Law School, he attended Howard University Law School where he graduated first in the Class of 1933. He declined a fellowship at Harvard Law School to open a solo practice, providing largely pro bono representation to Baltimore's African-American citizens. In 1936, with the assistance of his Howard University law professor and mentor Charles Hamilton Houston, Marshall won a case in the Maryland Court of Appeals that ordered admission of the first black to a white Southern law school, at the University of Maryland.

At Houston's invitation, Marshall joined the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) legal staff in 1936. He succeeded Houston as Special Counsel in 1939. A year later, Marshall wrote the corporate charter that created the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. He served as the organization's first director and chief counsel until 1961.

LDF's landmark victory in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was the culmination of Marshall's efforts over more than a decade to end the exclusion of African Americans from every level of education. He continued and expanded this crusade in the wake of Brown, toppling one discriminatory limitation after another in housing, voting rights, criminal justice and other arenas. He won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court, and forever changed the American social landscape.

Marshall left LDF in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He became the nation's first African-American Solicitor General in 1965, continuing the fight for civil and constitutional rights as the top lawyer for President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1967 President Johnson named Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court, making him the first black Justice in the Court's 178-year history. Until his retirement in 1991, following a period during which the high court took a dramatic turn toward the right, Marshall remained an unwavering crusader for the rights of people of color, women and the poor.

Excerpted with permission from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,

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