Thurgood Marshall Timeline

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was a prominent American lawyer and jurist who dedicated his life to fighting for civil rights and equality. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Marshall became the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.

His groundbreaking work as an attorney for the NAACP, his successful arguments before the Supreme Court in landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, and his unwavering commitment to justice made him a towering figure in the civil rights movement.

Thurgood Marshall’s legacy as a trailblazer and champion of equal rights continues to inspire and shape the pursuit of justice in America.

Timeline of Thurgood Marshall

1908 – Thurgood Marshall is born in Baltimore, Maryland

Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland. He grew up in a middle-class African American family, with his father working as a steward at a country club and his mother being a teacher.

1930 – Graduates from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania

In 1930, Marshall graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He earned his bachelor’s degree with honors, majoring in American literature and philosophy.

Also Read: Thurgood Marshall Accomplishments

During his time at Lincoln University, Marshall was influenced by the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance and began developing his commitment to civil rights and racial equality.

1933 – Completes law degree at Howard University School of Law

After completing his undergraduate studies, Marshall enrolled in Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. He earned his law degree in 1933 and graduated at the top of his class.

Marshall was greatly inspired by his mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, a prominent civil rights attorney and educator.

1936 – Joins the legal staff of the NAACP

In 1936, Thurgood Marshall joined the legal staff of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

As an attorney for the NAACP, Marshall dedicated himself to fighting against racial discrimination and working towards equality.

Also Read: Thurgood Marshall Facts

He initially worked on cases involving voter rights and equal pay but soon became involved in significant civil rights litigation.

1938 – Becomes the NAACP’s chief counsel

In 1938, Thurgood Marshall was appointed as the chief counsel for the NAACP. In this role, he became the lead attorney for the organization, responsible for developing and implementing legal strategies to challenge racial segregation and discrimination.

Marshall’s work primarily focused on dismantling segregation in public education, housing, transportation, and employment.

During this time, Marshall developed a reputation as a brilliant and tireless advocate for civil rights. He traveled extensively, visiting various African American communities, interviewing plaintiffs, and building cases against segregation.

Marshall’s efforts would lead him to argue numerous landmark cases before the Supreme Court and lay the groundwork for the eventual dismantling of legal segregation in the United States.

1940 – Wins Chambers v. Florida case before the Supreme Court

In 1940, Marshall achieved his first major victory before the Supreme Court in Chambers v. Florida. He successfully argued that the coerced confession of a young African American man, accused of murder, violated his constitutional rights.

The Court’s decision established a precedent in criminal procedure by recognizing the need to protect defendants’ rights against coercion and undue pressure.

1946 – Wins Morgan v. Virginia case, ending segregation in interstate bus travel

Thurgood Marshall’s legal prowess was instrumental in the landmark case of Morgan v. Virginia in 1946. Marshall successfully argued that segregation in interstate bus travel violated the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Irene Morgan, an African American woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, effectively ending segregation on interstate buses.

1950 – Litigates Sweatt v. Painter, leading to desegregation of graduate schools in Texas

Marshall’s efforts to challenge segregation in higher education led to another significant victory in Sweatt v. Painter. He represented Heman Marion Sweatt, an African American applicant who was denied admission to the University of Texas Law School because of his race.

Marshall successfully argued that the “separate but equal” doctrine, established in Plessy v. Ferguson, did not apply to professional schools.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sweatt, leading to the desegregation of graduate schools in Texas and setting a precedent for future challenges to segregation in education.

1954 – Argues and wins Brown v. Board of Education case, ending racial segregation in public schools

Arguably Thurgood Marshall’s most significant and groundbreaking case was Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. As the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Marshall argued that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, agreed with Marshall’s arguments and declared that separate educational facilities for black and white students were inherently unequal.

This landmark ruling marked the beginning of the end for legal segregation in public schools and became a cornerstone of the civil rights movement.

1961 – Appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Thurgood Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This appointment made Marshall the first African American to serve as a federal appellate judge.

As a judge, Marshall continued to make significant contributions to the advancement of civil rights, demonstrating his commitment to equality and justice.

1965 – Plays a role in organizing the Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights

In 1965, Thurgood Marshall played a crucial role in the civil rights movement by participating in the planning and organization of the Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama. These marches aimed to bring attention to the urgent need for voting rights for African Americans and to counter the systemic disenfranchisement faced by Black voters.

The marches, led by figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., drew national and international attention, ultimately leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

1967 – Becomes the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court

In 1967, Thurgood Marshall made history as the first African American to be appointed as a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.

His nomination by President Lyndon B. Johnson and subsequent confirmation by the Senate broke barriers and symbolized a significant step forward in the struggle for racial equality.

Marshall’s appointment brought a fresh perspective to the highest court in the land and allowed him to have a profound impact on shaping constitutional law.

1972 – Dissents in Furman v. Georgia, opposing the death penalty

Thurgood Marshall was known for his consistent opposition to the death penalty, as he believed it violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

In the landmark case Furman v. Georgia (1972), the Supreme Court examined the constitutionality of the death penalty.

Marshall authored a powerful dissenting opinion, arguing that the death penalty was inherently arbitrary and disproportionately impacted marginalized communities. While the Court did not fully adopt his position in Furman, his dissent helped shape subsequent discussions on the issue.

1974 – Writes the majority opinion in United States v. Nixon, requiring the release of the Watergate tapes

Thurgood Marshall played a significant role in the case United States v. Nixon (1974), which addressed the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

As a member of the Supreme Court, Marshall wrote the majority opinion, which determined that executive privilege could not be invoked to withhold evidence in a criminal investigation.

The decision compelled President Nixon to release the Watergate tapes, ensuring transparency and upholding the rule of law.

1991 – Retires from the Supreme Court

After serving on the Supreme Court for twenty-four years, Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement in 1991. Throughout his tenure, Marshall consistently voted in favor of civil rights, equality, and social justice.

His retirement marked the end of a remarkable era, during which he played an instrumental role in shaping the Court’s decisions and advancing the cause of civil rights. Marshall’s legacy as a champion of justice and equality continues to inspire generations.

1993 – Thurgood Marshall passes away at the age of 84

In 1993, Thurgood Marshall passed away on January 24 at the age of 84. Marshall’s health had been declining for some time, and he had battled various illnesses, including heart disease and lung cancer. His passing marked the end of a remarkable life dedicated to fighting for civil rights and promoting equality under the law.

Marshall’s death was mourned by people across the nation who recognized his immense contributions to American society. His legacy as a trailblazer and a tireless advocate for justice and civil rights continues to inspire generations of activists, lawyers, and individuals committed to equality.