Thoroughgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland. He shortened his name to Thurgood Marshall in the second grade “because he disliked spelling it.” His father was William Marshall who was a railroad porter, and his mother Norma was a teacher. His mother taught him to appreciate the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States. His grandfather was a slave, and his great-grandfather was born in modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo and sold into slavery.
Thurgood Marshall was among the “best students” at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore. He graduated in the top third of his class early in 1925; he had a B- grade average. He later attended Lincoln University with the goal to become a lawyer. He did not take his classes seriously at first and “was suspended twice for hazing and pranks against fellow students.”
Marshall married Vivien “Buster” Burey (1929-1955) in September 1929, and she influenced him to be more serious about school. He graduated from Lincoln with honors (cum laude); he received a “Bachelor of Arts in Humanities with a major in American literature and philosophy.” He wanted to study law at the University of Maryland School of Law but “did not apply because of the school’s segregation policy.” He chose instead to attend Howard University School of Law and graduated first in his class.
With a law degree in his hand, Marshall started a private law firm in Baltimore. In 1934 he represented the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in a discrimination suit Murray v. Pearson against the University of Maryland Law School because of its segregation policy. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against the university. Two years later in 1936 he became part of NAACP national staff.
“At the age of 32, Marshall won U.S. Supreme Court case Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 (1940). That same year, he founded and became the executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As the head of the Legal Defense Fund, he argued many other civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, most of the successfully.
Marshall was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. He was on the court until 1965 when he was appointed to be the United States Solicitor General by President Lyndon B. Johnson; he was the first African American to hold the office and “won 14 out of the 19 cases he argued for the government.” He was confirmed by a Senate vote of 69-11 as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on August 30, 1967. Again, he was the first African American to hold the position.
After his first wife Vivien died in February 1955, Marshall married Cecilia Suyat in December 1955. They were married until his death; they had two sons together. Thurgood Marshall, Jr. was a top aide to President Bill Clinton, and John W. Marshall was United States Marshals Service Director and Virginia Secretary of Public Safety.
Thurgood Marshall died of heart failure on January 24, 1993, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland; he was 84 years old. He is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery. He was survived by his second wife and two sons. “He left all his personal papers and notes to the Library of Congress.”