PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Fifty-years-ago Thurgood Marshall became the first African American to be confirmed to the US Supreme Court.
Thurgood Marshall was just 59-years-old when joined the nation’s highest court in 1967. Before that he was known as the “rough and tumble” lawyer who sued to end segregated public education in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case.
“He was a trailblazer and I am sure that his upbringing and his life experiences combined to make him the force that he was,” says Judge C. Darnell Jones of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Jones grew up in Oklahoma and spent his early years in segregated Black Schools, but soon experienced the benefits of Marshall’s legal win.
“Schools were integrated on a much, much larger scale,” says Jones. “Then colleges, then law school and then practicing law then the bench.”
Marshall grew up in Maryland and attended Lincoln University. He then applied to law school at the University of Maryland but was rejected because he was Black.
Marshall then attended Howard University School of Law and then opened up a law practice and soon developed a reputation as a lawyer for the “little man.”
“Thurgood Marshall was from a generation where when they saw something wrong they went and filed suit,” says Kevin Harden, president of the Philadelphia Barristers Association.
He says while Marshall’s legacy includes integrated public education, it also includes affirmative action, which he believed was the remedy for hundreds of years of slavery and racism.
Harden believes Marshall and would frown upon recent conservative roll back of LGBT and other individual rights, especially affirmative action.
“Marshall would curse the use of his own strategies to undue his legacy,” he says.
In addition to his work as a lawyer, Marshall was a vocal on the Supreme Court. His ascension to the high court began in 1961 when he was appointed to the US Court of Appeals by President John F. Kennedy.
He held the position until 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson named him Solicitor General. President Johnson then appointed Marshall to the high court when Justice Tom Clark retired in 1967.
Marshall was confirmed by the US Senate with a 69-11 vote.
“Thurgood Marshall appreciated the rule of law had a sort of moral consciousness he brought that to the court at a time in the history in this country when the rights of people of color was not validated or acknowledged,” says Jacqueline Allen, administrative court judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. “His presence there set the bar from which so much more followed.”
Allen grew up in Memphis, TN and says she too is the produce of Marshall’s legal legacy.
“Education was key and I owe that to Thurgood Marshall,” she says. “It’s unlikely that Jackie Allen would have become the administrative law judge here in Philadelphia or even a lawyer for that matter.”
Marshall remained on the US Supreme Court for 24 years until retiring for health reasons. He died in 1993.