Monumentally Speaking . . .
Christopher T. George

Thurgood Marshall
As rugged as his monument

O n Pratt Street, outside the Edward A. Garmatz Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, stands the statue of Supreme Court JusticeThurgood Marshall, a Baltimore native son and civil rights lawyer who reached the pinnacle of the U.S. justice system. Sculptor Reuben Kramer's statue captures the rugged individualism of this great African-American, from his craggy face right down to the folds of his Supreme Court Justice's robes.

Marshall was born Thoroughgood Marshall in Baltimore on July 2, 1908. The great grandson of a slave, he was named for his paternal grandfather, a man named "Marshall," who when he joined the Union Army as a freedman, had to choose a first name and adopted the name "'Throughgood." The Supreme Court justice later told an interviewer, "I was named after him, but by the time I was in second grade, I got tired of spelling all that and shortened it."

Young Marshall grew up on Division Street, the son of William and Norma Africa Marshall. His father became chief steward of the prestigious Gibson Island Club, while mother Norma Marshall, a graduate of an all-black Maryland college, taught in a segregated Baltimore elementary school.

Both Thurgood and his elder brother Aubrey went on to higher education. Aubrey attended medical school, from which he graduated to become an eminent chest surgeon. Thurgood went to Lincoln University, the nation's oldest black college, from which he graduated with honors in 1930. He then attended Howard University law school, graduating in 1933. The following year, he began to work for the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Along with Charles Houston, a mentor of Marshall's from Howard University, Marshall won his major first civil rights case in the summer of 1935 in Murray vs. Pearson, in which the NAACP championed the right of Donald Gaines Murray to enter the University of Maryland Law School. Marshall argued eloquently in the case, "What's at stake here is more than the rights of my client. It's the moral commitment stated in our country's creed."

Marshall's achievement in Murray vs. Pearson, led him to being by 1950 one of the county's leading civil rights lawyers, spear heading the movement for black rights in the south. Known for his steely determination to obtain justice for blacks, he won Supreme Court victories in two graduate school integration cases in 1950. Especially notable was his successful case in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka in 1954,the land mark case that demolished the legal basis for segregation in the United States.

Marshall was named to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. As a Circuit Court judge in 1961-65, he made 98 rulings, all of them upheld by the Supreme Court. After being appointed U.S. Solicitor General by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, he successfully argued 14 of 16 cases for the government between 1965 and 1967. Johnson named him an Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1967. Marshall thus became the first Marylander to serve on the Supreme Court since Roger Taney, chief justice from 1836 to 1864 , as well as the first African American to achieve the distinction of serving on the Court. As an Associate Justice, Marshall continued his work of championing the constitutional rights of all races.

Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement on June 27, 1991, and he died of heart failure on January 24, 1993 at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. In his eulogy to Marshall, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist referred to the words inscribed above the front entrance to the Supreme Court, "Equal Justice for All." Rehnquist stated, "Surely no one individual did more to make these words a reality than Thurgood Marshall."

Reuben Kramer's statue of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall captures the power and determination of a man who made a difference in the area of civil rights in this country.

[Device] Christopher T. George is a local free-lance writer and poet and the author of the recent picture book on our city, Baltimore Close Up, from Arcadia Publishers, on sale at local bookstores.

Questions or comments about this article for Mr. George.

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