News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Features

October 4, 2012

BRUCE’S HISTORY LESSONS: Thurgood Marshall: A Life in the Law

Thurgood Marshall was officially sworn in as America’s first black Supreme Court justice this week (Oct. 2) in 1967. Appointed by then-President Lyndon Johnson, Marshall’s confirmation hearings were highly contentious, thanks to a bloc of southern senators opposed to any black man sitting on the land’s highest court.

Then again, facing southern enmity was nothing new to Marshall. Since becoming the chief lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1936, he had waged the legal battle against segregation virtually alone, arguing most of the NAACP’s civil rights cases in hostile courtrooms throughout the South. Those years had helped sharpen both his legal skills and his survival skills, since he often faced physical harm and even death by southerners enraged at the very sight of an educated black man, let alone one attempting to end one of their most ingrained cultural institutions.  In one Mississippi town, he would recall years later, a citizen had informed him that “the sun ain’t nevah set on a live [Negro] in this town,” prompting Marshall to temporarily set aside his faith in constitutional guarantees and catch the next train out of town.

Those years also taught him a lot about the segregationist’s mindset, which he used to great effect when he argued his — and arguably America’s — most famous civil liberties case before the Supreme Court, Brown vs. The Board of Education. In that landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the “separate but equal” doctrine that had served as the foundation for the South’s segregated public school system violated the 14th Amendment, and was therefore illegal.

With that victory, Marshall and the NAACP set the stage for the civil rights movement that would later burgeon under leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.

Not surprisingly, during the 24 years he spent on the Supreme Court, Marshall became an advocate for what he perceived were Americans’ fundamental civil rights. He argued against discrimination based on race or sex; he opposed the death penalty as being “cruel and unusual punishment” (and disproportionally applied to minorities); he supported affirmative action; and believed women had a legal right to an abortion.

An unabashed liberal, Marshall spent his last years on the court increasingly in the minority as Republican presidents appointed more conservative justices, and by the time he retired in 1991, he was known mostly for his sharp dissents.

Someone once asked Marshall for his definition of “equal.” He replied, “Equal means getting the same thing at the same time and in the same place.” The “thing” Marshall most wanted all Americans to get, at the same time and place, was the equal opportunity to reach their full potential as U.S. citizens.

Bruce G. Kauffmann’s email address is bruce@

historylessons.net.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Features
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Plane Lands on New York Highway Raw: International Team Inspects MH17 Bodies Raw: 25 Family Members Killed in Gaza Airstrike Recording May Show Attempt at Crash Cover-up US Teen Beaten in Mideast Talks About Ordeal Obama Protects Gay, Transgender Workers Raw: Girl Killed in Kansas After Police Chase Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism Raw: Eric Garner's Wife Collapses at Rally in NY Legendary Actor James Garner Dies Texas Sending National Guard Troops to Border AP Exclusive: American Beaten in Israel Speaks 45 Years Later, Buzz Aldrin on Walking on Moon Hopkins to Pay $190M After Pelvic Exams Taped Wisc. Twins Celebrate a Century of Laughter Raw: Gaza Rescuers Search Rubble for Survivors UN Security Council Calls for MH 17 Crash Probe Ukraine Rebels: Black Boxes Will Be Returned Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror' Obama Bestows Medal of Honor on NH Veteran
NDN Video
Obama: Putin must push separatists to aid MH17 probe Michigan inmates no longer allowed to wear orange due to 'OITNB' Adam Levine Ties the Knot Sebastian The Ibis Walks Beautiful Bride Down The Aisle | ACC Must See Moment NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Faces of Souls Lost in Malaysian Plane Crash 105-year-old woman throws first pitch Man Creates Spreadsheet of Wife's Reasons for Turning Down Sex 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success Rory McIlroy struggles, surges, wins British Open NOW TRENDING: Real life Pac-Man Explosions as hot air balloon crashes in Clinton DUI Driver Dragged to Safety by Officer After Walking Onto Busy Freeway Celebrities That We'd Like to Send to the Moon Spectacular lightning storm hits London Malaysian Flight Victim Was South Florida Grad Rory McIlroy on pace to break British Open records Officials Fear MH17 Site Now Tampered by Rebels Lowes employees repair Vietnam vet's wheelchair Widow of Staten Island man who died after NYPD takedown says he was unjustifiably targeted
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity