Thurgood Marshall

How the first black Supreme Court justice changed children’s lives

Thurgood Marshall may have been inspired to become a lawyer after pulling a prank in high school.

As punishment, his principal made Marshall read the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the rights all Americans should have. But Marhsall was born on July 2, 1908, in Maryland, a time when Black people were discriminated against in southern states. He knew that Black people didn't have the same rights as other white Americans and realized the best way to fight for justice was through the law.

After graduating from law school, Marshall started working on civil rights cases to fight for equality for African Americans. But probably his best known case was Brown vs. Board of Education, which challenged school segregation, when white and Black students are forced to go to separate schools. Marshall argued in front of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, that "separate" was not equal, as people who supported segregation believed. (Part of this case involved an African-American student from Kansas who wanted to go to a white school six blocks from her house instead of riding a bus to a Black school more than a mile away.) The justices agreed with Marshall, and in 1954 school segregation was abolished.

Desegregation happened slowly, but Marshall kept fighting. Then in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him as the first African-American justice to serve on the Supreme Court. He continued to fight for civil rights, using the law to protect the all people. He died on January 24, 1993.