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Thurgood Marshall was only 30 years old when he replaced his former professor Charles Houston as special counsel for the NAACP in the late 1930s. In that era, the NAACP was considered a radical left-wing organization. Under Marshall's leadership, the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund took aim against segregation, winning the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregated schools in 1954, the 1956 Browder v. Gayle lawsuit that abolished segregation on Alabama buses, and the 1955 case admitting Autherine Lucy to the University of Alabama (though the University later found a way to avoid admitting Lucy).
Marshall's colleague Constance Baker Motley helped write the legal brief for Brown and took the lead in the 1962 Meredith v. Fair lawsuit that won James Meredith's admission to the University of Mississippi. Both NAACP lawyers achieved significant "firsts": Motley was the first African American woman appointed to the federal judiciary, and Marshall rose to become the nation's first black Supreme Court justice.