On October 31, 1950, Earl Lloyd became the first African American to play in an NBA game. Three years after Jackie Robinson’s debut as part of the MLB, Lloyd took the court as a player for the Washington Capitols, scoring six points and pulling down 10 rebounds. A legendary defensive player, Lloyd did more than just play a good game. He helped to pave the way for players of color who entered the league after him.
Earl Lloyd was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1928. There, he was a stand-out high school basketball player. He went on to play for West Virginia State University. Immediately following his graduation in 1950, Lloyd was the second African American drafted into the NBA, chosen in the ninth round by the Washington Capitols. He played for the first time on October 31, 1950 in a game against the Rochester Royals. Lloyd was the first of the three African American players drafted that year, including Chuck Cooper and Nat Clifton, to play. He was also the first African American to win an NBA title in 1955.
Following his years playing basketball, which were fraught with discrimination and vitriol by fans, hotels, and restaurants as the team traveled, Lloyd became the first African-American assistant coach in the league for the Detroit Pistons. He became the head coach three years later. Lloyd said of his time in the NBA that he was “in the right place at the right time. I don’t play it up or down. I just hope I conducted myself where I made it easier for others, and I think I did.”
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.”