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#UNBlackHistoryMonth: Thurgood Marshall

When Vice President Kamala Harris was sworn into office, she used two bibles. One of those bibles belonged to Thurgood Marshall, the first African American justice to serve on the supreme court. A fellow Howard alumni, Kamala using this pivotal moment in our nation's history to pay homage to Thurgood Marshall is a testament to the generational impact he has had.

Marshall was born July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland to a railroad porter and a teacher. After graduating High School, he attended Lincoln University which at the time was one of the most prestigious schools for Black men. Thurgood Marshall had long desired to become a lawyer, so he began the journey towards making that dream a reality.

In 1930, he applied to the University Of Maryland School of Law, but was rejected because he was Black. This led him to Howard University School of Law.

In 1933, Marshall would receive his law degree and rank first in his class. While in college, his mentor Dean Hamilton encouraged him to use the law as a means of social transformation. This would inspire him to be one of the most influential figures of the civil rights movement.

Thurgood Marshall played an instrumental role in changing the American education system , by reforming education for African Americans. As a young lawyer, Marshall fought for equal pay for African American educators. He witnessed his family struggle to afford his college tuition, and his mother would plead with the college administration to accept late payments while she managed to scrape enough together from her job as a teacher. Well, once he got his degree he paid his mother back in the best way possible. From Marshalls hard work, a federal court struck down pay discrimination against African-American teachers in Maryland. He went on to fight for teacher pay equality in 10 states across the South.

Perhaps his most recognizable victory in the court was Brown V. Board of Education in Topeka 1954, this was the court ruling that desegregated schools. Marshall, who was head of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, served as chief attorney for the plaintiffs. This opened the door for Ruby Bridges at six years old to be the first African American child to integrate an elementary school.

On August 30, 1967 history was made when the Senate confirmed Thurgood Marshall as the first African-American to serve as a Supreme Court Justice to a nomination of 69-11. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Tom C. Clark. Paving the way for Justice Clarence Thomas who still serves on the supreme court today.

Thurgood Marshall is an essential figure in the Civil Rights movement, who’s impact lives on through the work he did to make education accessible to African Americans.