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The Life and Legacy of Thurgood Marshall:  First African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Black History: Special Delivery!!

Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993)

Many are aware that Thurgood Marshall (1908 – 1993) made history when he was appointed as the first African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall was an accomplished litigator and civil rights trailblazer even before his appointment to the Supreme Court. Out of 32 cases litigated before the Supreme Court, he won 29! His wins include several landmark decisions including, Brown v. Board of Education which resulted in the desegregation of public schools and Smith vs. Allwright which won a key victory in eliminating voting rights discrimination for African-Americans. Marshall was also a vocal advocate against police brutality and women’s rights. He was also against the death penalty.

Marshall was named “Thoroughgood” at birth. He shortened his name to “Thurgood” in the second grade to make it easier for himself to write out. Marshall graduated as one of the top 3 students in his class at Frederick Douglass High School in Maryland. He wanted to attend the University of Maryland but did not apply knowing he would be refused admission due to his race. He then enrolled in Lincoln University, a historically black college (HBCU) and graduated in 1930. While at Lincoln, he was suspended for hazing and pranking students. His initial plan was to pursue a degree in dentistry. Marshall married, Vivien Burey while at Lincoln. He would go on to graduate from Lincoln with honors, earning a degree in literature and philosophy. He then attended Howard University’s law school and graduated in 1933 as the class valedictorian.

Marshall developed his interest in law practice because his father would take him to observe court proceedings. They would then engage in a detailed discussion regarding the cases. His father would relentlessly challenge Marshall on his views on cases. Marshall credits his father with his eventual pursuit of law as a profession. Marshall’s mother initially did not want him to go into law as a career. She feared that as a black attorney he would not be able to make a living which is why she encouraged him to go into dentistry instead. She later came around and pawned her wedding and engagement rings to pay his law school entrance fees.

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Smith v. Allwright: Landmark Voting Rights Supreme Court Case Litigated By Thurgood Marshall

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smith v allwright

Smith v. Allwright began in U.S. Federal court in 1940.  The case was filed by Dr. Lonnie Smith (1901 – 1971) in Houston, Texas, an African American dentist and civil rights activist.  Smith was also an officer in the  Houston branch of the NAACP.    The legal challenges centered around the practice of excluding blacks from voting in primary elections.  At the time, the Democratic Party was the dominant political party in most Southern states.  Many Southern white democrats favored segregation and other laws to subjugate black people and prevent them from voting.  One such tool that they employed to prevent black people from voting was to declare the Democratic primary elections to be closed to blacks.

Continue reading “Smith v. Allwright: Landmark Voting Rights Supreme Court Case Litigated By Thurgood Marshall”

Violette Anderson: First African American Woman Admitted To Practice Before The U.S. Supreme Court

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Violette_Neatley_Anderson
Violette Anderson

Born in 1882, Violette Anderson, was an African American attorney and judge. Anderson was born in England to a German mother and a West Indian father. Her family relocated to U.S. when she was a child. Anderson graduated from North Division High School in Chicago in 1899. She worked as a court reporter from 1905-1920 which peaked her interest in the field of law. She earned her LL.B. in 1920 and then started a private practice. She was the first African American woman to practice law in U.S. District Court-Eastern Division. Anderson served as the first female city prosecutor in Chicago, a position she held from 1922-23. She was later admitted to practice before Supreme Court of the United States in 1926. This achievement made it possible for other black females to do the same.

Active in her community, Anderson belonged to the Federal Colored Women’s Clubs, was president of Friendly Big Sisters League of Chicago, First Vice President of the Cook County Bar Association, and secretary of Idewild Lot Owners Association. Anderson was also a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority; bequeathing her summer home in Idewild, MI to the organization. Anderson died in 1937. Her life and legacy is recognized by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, every year in the month of April as, “Violette Anderson Day”

Check out some of our earlier posts:

African American Firsts In The NBA

From Ebony Magazine: 5 Things to Know About Blacks and Native Americans

NASA Mathematician Recieves Medal Of Freedom

 

 

Malcom X Quote

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

malcolm x quote

Geraldine Bledsoe Ford: 1st African American Woman To Be Elected As A Judge

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Born in 1928, Geraldine Bledsoe-Ford was the first African-American to be elected as a judge in the United States.  She was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan.  In 1966, she scored a surprising upset victory to become a judge on the Detroit Recorders Court.  Ford’s qualifications swept the election and she led the ticket repeatedly for the following 33 years. After a court reorganization, she served another year as a Circuit Court Judge, before retiring in 1999.

She spent much of her career hearing criminal cases.  On the bench she was known as “Mean Geraldine” to unprepared attorneys and those to whom she issued tough prison sentences.  However, Judge Ford also had a softer side; serving as a mentor to many aspiring lawyers.  Her daughter, Deborah Geraldine Bledsoe-Ford also served as a judge in Detroit as well.

Geraldine Bledsoe-Ford died in 2003.

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