Sound Vault: Thurgood Marshall

The first African American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, reflects on a special meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office of the White House.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now we go to the Sound Vault, where we find special moments from history. As the current Supreme Court session draws to a close this week, we want to bring you the story of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the court. He was nominated in June 1967.

In this excerpt, Marshall is retelling the story of getting the news from President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office of the White House.

Mr. THURGOOD MARSHALL (Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice): I went in and he was over at the ticker-tape machines. And I waited a little while and I coughed, and he said, oh, hi Thurgood. Sit down. Sit down. We chatted a few minutes and I didn't ask him what was on his mind. I let him speak. And all of the sudden he just looked at me and said, you know something, Thurgood. I said, no sir. What's that? He said, I'm going to put you on the Supreme Court. And I said, what did you say? And he said, that's it. I said, okay, sir. And he had the press out there waiting in the Rose Garden and he carried me out and announced it.

And then we came back in the Oval Room. And I said, Mr. President, now, look, they're going to get that on the wire in about a minute. Can I call my wife so she won't hear about it? He said, you mean you haven't told Cissy yet? I said, no. How could I? I've been with you all the time. So we called her and I said - got her on the phone - and I said, Cissy, are you sitting down? And she said, no. I said, well, you better sit down. And she did, and then I'm begging to the president. And the president says, Cissy, this is Lyndon Johnson. She said, yes, Mr. President. He said, I just put your husband on the Supreme Court. And Cissy said, I sure am glad I'm sitting down.

And then he said, (unintelligible). And he said, I guess this is the end of our friendship. And I said, yup, just about, there will be no more of that. And I said, well, I'll tell you this, Mr. President. I said, you know, Tom Clark and Harry Truman were as close as anybody, but when that steel case came up, Tom had sock it to him. He said, well you wouldn't do like that to me? And I said, no sooner than. And he said, well that's the way I want it. And that's the way it was.

MARTIN: That was Thurgood Marshall, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. That excerpt, recorded February 1977, comes to us from the Oral History Research Office of Columbia University. Thurgood Marshall served on the Supreme Court for 23 years.

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That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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