Thurgood Marshall , originally Thoroughgood Marshall (born July 2, 1908, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.—died January 24, 1993, Bethesda), lawyer, civil rights activist, and associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1967–91), the first African American member of the Supreme Court. As an attorney, he successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), which declared unconstitutional racial segregation in American public schools.
Marshall was the son of William Canfield Marshall, a railroad porter and a steward at an all-white country club, and Norma Williams Marshall, an elementary school teacher. He graduated with honours from Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) in 1930. After being rejected by the University of Maryland Law School because he was not white, Marshall attended Howard University Law School; he received his degree in 1933, ranking first in his class. At Howard he was the protégé of Charles Hamilton Houston, who encouraged Marshall and other law students to view the law as a vehicle for social change.
Upon his graduation from Howard, Marshall began the private practice of law in Baltimore. Among his first legal victories was Murray v. Pearson (1935), in which Marshall successfully sued the University of Maryland for denying an African American applicant admission to its law school simply on the basis of race. In 1936 Marshall became a staff lawyer under Houston for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); in 1938 he became the lead chair in the legal office of the NAACP, and two years later he was named chief of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Throughout the 1940s and ’50s Marshall distinguished himself as one of the country’s top lawyers, winning 29 of the 32 cases that he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Among them were cases in which the court declared unconstitutional a Southern state’s exclusion of African American voters from primary elections (Smith v. Allwright ),