Thurgood Marshall, then chief counsel for the NAACP, poses for a photo taken circa 1950. In 1967, Marshall became the first African-American elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Thurgood Marshall, then chief counsel for the NAACP, poses for a photo taken circa 1950. In 1967, Marshall became the first African-American elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Keystone/Getty Images
February is Black History Month and Tell Me More observes the month with a series of short vignettes. In this installment, regular contributor Arsalan Iftikhar shares his black history hero.
I'm Arsalan Iftikhar, a civil rights attorney and frequent contributor to Tell Me More's Barbershop segment. The black history figure who has always been a hero of mine is Thurgood Marshall.
Although most Americans know that Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, many people do not know that he actually began as a volunteer lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund which helped pass the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
He was a smart and confident attorney. Here he is just before the Brown decision:
I am as certain as I'm sitting here that governmentally enforced segregation and governmentally imposed discrimination because of race, creed or color so far as enforcement by government is concerned will be off the books within the foreseeable future. And I think that that is the real job ahead, as once the whole problem is laid bare and clear, then democracy will take over. And that means each individual.
The court ruled unanimously: "in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
Thurgood Marshall knew segregation firsthand. He attended all-black schools growing up in Baltimore, and was denied entry into the law school at the University of Maryland.
He enrolled in historically black Howard University's law school instead, and two years after graduating he — with help from Howard Law School dean and mentor Charles Hamilton Houston — won a lawsuit forcing the University of Maryland to integrate its law school.
As a civil rights lawyer myself, I am constantly reminded of the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education and other landmark Supreme Court cases which have helped to expand the civil rights of all Americans.