Jackson Creek Middle School
American Heroes: Thurgood Marshall
His Law Cases
His early cases:
At first, Thurgood Marshall served very few people and didn't get many cases. When he did get cases, they paid very little, and usually had something to do with civil rights. This was good, since Marshall felt very strongly about everyone being treated equally. Marshall didn't feel the need to charge a lot of money to people who couldn't afford it, so he didn't complain about his low income. Because of the painstaking care he took in preparing each case, he won many of his early cases.
In 1934, the local NAACP asked Marshall to be the chapter's lawyer. The position on NAACP council paid nothing, but Marshall thought it was an honor to work with the city's leading black rights group, so he didn't care. Marshall scored his first major court victory in 1935 in the Murray v. Pearson case. In this case, Donald Murray was not allowed to enter the University of Maryland because he was black. Raymond Pearson, president of the University of Maryland, said that Murray could obtain "separate but equal" training at the Princess Anne Academy. However, this school offered no legal degree, which was what Murray was trying to obtain. Because of Marshall and fellow lawyer Charlie Houston's excellent research and execution of the material, the court had no choice but to order the University of Maryland to admit Murray.
In 1936, Charlie Houston, first special council to the NAACP, asked Marshall to become his assistant. Marshall accepted. For the next two years, Marshall and Houston traveled from one southern courthouse to another as they filed lawsuits for black students and teachers. Marshall spent the rest of his time between New York City, the headquarters of the NAACP, and Baltimore, where he refused to abandon his clients. Marshall's first case as NAACP assistant special council was similar to an earlier one, involving a student not being admitted to a law school on the basis of race. This case went to the Supreme Court. By a vote of 6-2, the Supreme Court agreed with the Marshall-Houston argument.
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.:
Marshall, appointed director-council of the Fund, was responsible for supervising all legal activities for the NAACP.
Marshall planned the NAACP's overall courtroom strategy, oversaw individual lawsuits, prepared briefs, and argued cases himself. The fund focused on two areas during its early years: racial inequality in the nation's courtrooms and the exclusion of blacks from the voting process.
Marshall prepared his first Supreme Court brief for the Chambers v. Florida case. For this case, the NAACP wanted to overturn the convictions of three black men accused of murdering a white man in Florida. The three men were not allowed to see lawyers, friends, or family during their interrogation. The Supreme Court had already ruled that confessions that were obtained by force could not be used in court. However, Florida courts said that the confessions were not extracted by force, so they were used in court. Marshall said that these "sunrise confessions" (p. 55) obtained by terrified men were qualified as forced admissions. Also, he argued that these confessions violated the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process of law. The Supreme Court agreed with Marshall and they reversed the convictions of the three men.
Marshall argued many cases for the NAACP, including Morgan v. Virginia, Smith v. Allwright, and Lyons v. Oklahoma. In 1946, Marshall was awarded the NAACP's highest award, the Spingarn Medal, awarded annually for the "highest or noblest achievement by an American Negro." (p.61)
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was Marshall's most famous and perhaps important case. The case was trying to prove that school segregation was unconstitutional. It was composed of five cases, with the Brown case coming first alphabetically. The consolidated appeals went to the Supreme Court on December 9, 1952. After three days of oral arguments, both sides had used up their allotted time and the justices retired to think about what they had heard. The following June, the Court announced that it wanted both sides to clarify certain points of their arguments. Their appearance was scheduled for December 7, 1953. Five months later, the court unanimously declared school segregation unconstitutional. This court ruling changed school systems across the nation.
By: Jenny H.
Last updated: 12/14/01