“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”
Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1908. Today would have been his 104th birthday.
The grandson of a slave, Marshall knew first hand the long arm of a segregated society. In 1930, after graduating cum laude from Lincoln University, he applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but wasn’t accepted because of his race. Marshall went instead to Howard University Law School where he graduated magna cum laude. He later successfully sued UofM to admit Donald Murray to the Law school.
He moved to New York and became a special counsel for the NAACP. He helped draft the constitutions for Ghana and Tanzania on the behest of the United Nations.
Marshall argued in numerous Supreme Court cases, most revolving around segregation. The landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas demolished legal “separate but equal” segregation in the United States.
In 1961 Marshall was appointed by President Kennedy as a circuit judge. In 1965 President Johnson appointed him Solicitor General, and in 1967 Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. He served on the Court until 1991.
He saw the Constitution as living document , noting in 1987 on the bicentennial of the Constitution that:
“the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights, we hold as fundamental today…Some may more quietly commemorate the suffering, struggle, and sacrifice that has triumphed over much of what was wrong with the original document, and observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled. I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”