When you ask most kids what they want to be when they grow up, they’ll tell you that their dream in life is to be a fireman or a professional soccer player or, in some of the more bizarre cases, a giraffe. What they’re probably not going to say is, “I want to be a lawyer and win Supreme Court cases!” Now, this is understandable. After all, not many kindergartners know what a Supreme Court case is. Nonetheless, we’re taking the time to celebrate the birthday of one very important lawyer — although he was far from just a lawyer — today: Thurgood Marshall. That’s a name that all kids should come to know and love, thanks to his contributions throughout history. And, maybe after learning about him today, your little ones will start answering the what-do-you-want-to-be question with something like, “I would like to grow up to be a successful lawyer and Supreme Court justice, and I would like to change our nation for the better.” But don’t count on that.
Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. Both his great-grandfather and his grandfather were slaves, which makes his stamp on history all the more poignant. After Marshall had graduated from Frederick Douglass High School and Lincoln University, he went on to study law at Howard Law School. In fact, his dream had been to attend University of Maryland Law School, but their segregation policy made this impossible. He graduated in 1933 at the top of his class — in fact, he was first in his class — and that’s when Thurgood Marshall began to make a name for himself.
So, what did Marshall accomplish? The better question is: What did he not accomplish? First of all, he was the reason University of Maryland Law School ended their segregation policy after he represented a client who was suing the university in Murray v. Pearson. But Marshall is most well known for the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, which, upon its conclusion, led to the demise of separate but equal and, therefore, to the demise of segregation in public schools. He was the chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and, on top of all of that, he was the first African American associate justice on the Supreme Court. And Marshall was a family man, too: He was married twice and had two children — John and Thurgood, Jr. — with his second wife Cecilia Suyat. Thurgood Marshall, Jr. went on to be an aide for President Clinton, while John Marshall became the Virginia Secretary of Public Safety. It looks like success runs in the family.
Thurgood Marshall passed away from heart failure in 1993, but he remains a historical legacy and one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement. So, sure, your kids want to be firemen or soccer players or giraffes. But now being a lawyer sounds pretty cool, too, doesn’t it? Happy birthday, Thurgood Marshall!