The Great Dissenter

On October 2, 1967, Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court. Marshall was nominated to the position by President Lyndon B. Johnson following a storied legal career in which Marshall fought tirelessly for racial justice. During his 24 years on the bench, Marshall never gave up on his ultimate goal: equality for all.

Thurgood Marshall was born in Maryland in 1908. He was the son of a railroad porter and an elementary school teacher and the grandson of an enslaved person. He was incredibly bright and graduated from college with honors. When applying to law school, Marshall received a rejection from the University of Maryland based solely on his race. After earning his law degree at Howard University, Marshall came back to the University of Maryland, this time to sue the university for violating the Fourteenth Amendment by denying admission based on race. He won.

Marshall won several more high-profile cases, striking down laws and policies that allowed for racial discrimination in housing and schools. In 1938, Marshall became Chief Counsel of the NAACP. His most well-known legal victory is that of Brown v. Board of Education. Through this case, segregation in public schools was deemed unconstitutional. After winning this case, Marshall became a circuit judge and U.S. Solicitor General before becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

As a Supreme Court Justice, Justice Marshall championed affirmative action, the right to privacy, and a woman’s right to choose, the same rights that have been struck down by the Supreme Court in recent years. During his years on the court, Justice Marshall was often referred to as “The Great Dissenter,” and the necessity of dissension might be his greatest legacy. In a commencement address that Justice Marshall gave at the University of Virginia in 1978: “Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”

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