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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.

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

Wiley Branton: African American Attorney, Freedom Rider, and Civil Rights Activist

Black History: Special Delivery!!

Wiley Branton
Wiley Branton

 Wiley Branton (1923 – 1988) was an African American attorney, freedom rider, and civil rights activist. Branton was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. After serving in the army in World War II, Branton spent time teaching blacks how to mark their election ballots after the war. This resulted in Branton being convicted of a misdemeanor for “teaching the mechanics of voting”. In 1952, Branton received a Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He was the 3rd black student to graduate from the school. Branton went on to serve as the chief counsel for the black plaintiffs in the 1957 Little Rock desegregation case. Continue reading “Wiley Branton: African American Attorney, Freedom Rider, and Civil Rights Activist”

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