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Thurgood Marshall: Revolutionizing the Concept of Precedence in the Supreme Court

                 

                    Thurgood                                       

                                         Marshall 

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Thurgood Marshall: Revolutionizing the Concept of Precedence in the Supreme Court

By Brantley Alan Stein

Edited by Dale Shields

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One of the most significant Supreme Court justices of the past century, Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. His great grandfather was a slave, as was his grandfather. His original last name was Thoroughgood, but he shortened it in second grade because he did not like to spell it. His Father, William Marshall, was a railroad porter, and his mother Norma was a schoolteacher. They both instilled in him the importance of the constitution as well as the rule of law. Marshall attended Frederick Douglas High School in Baltimore, and placed in the top tier of his class.

Thurgood Marshall’s high school graduation photograph at age 17. His father was a railroad dining-car porter and steward at a country club; his mother, a homemaker, was a graduate of the historically black Coppin Normal School.  (Courtesy of Supreme Court Historical Society)

Thurgood Marshall’s high school graduation photograph at age 17. His father was a railroad dining-car porter and steward at a country club; his mother, a homemaker, was a graduate of the historically Black Coppin Normal School.
(Courtesy of Supreme Court Historical Society)

He graduated in three years with a B average, putting him in the top third of his class. After his graduation, Marshall followed his brother, William Aubrey Marshall, to the historically Black college, Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. His classmates included the presence of poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist, Langston Hughes, the future President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, and Cab Calloway, a famous bandleader, jazz singer and musician.

At the beginning of his career at Lincoln, he did not take his studies seriously, and got into quite a bit of trouble for hazing against fellow students. He also opposed the integration of African-American Professors into the school. He was the star of the debate team, which comes as no surprise due to his confidence, demeanor, and articulation of speech shown throughout his career as a lawyer. He was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity to appear on Greek Row, which was the first black fraternity. In 1929, during the month of September, Marshall married his first wife, Vivien Burey. This encouraged him to start taking his studies seriously, resulting in Marshall graduating Cum Laude, with a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, with a major in American literature and philosophy. He had planned on attending the University of Maryland in 1930, but could not apply due to the segregation laws of the time placed by the school. Instead, he attended Howard University School of Law, where he met Charles Hamilton Houston, who was the Dean and future litigation director of the NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People). Houston played a large role in the disbandment of the Jim Crow Laws, and heavily influenced Marshall’s views on discrimination and segregation of the time.