This week's Influencial Black Episcopalian: Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall was an American lawyer and civil rights activist who served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from October 1967 until October 1991. Marshall was the Court's first black justice.
Born in 1908 in Baltimore, Thurgood Marshall graduated from Howard University and Lincoln University, historically Black universities, as he was unable to attend University of Maryland School of Law, due to the segregation policies. After Marshall passed the bar in 1933, he went into private practice in Baltimore, specializing in civil-rights cases. By the following year, he became the legal counsel for Baltimore’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall won his first major civil-rights decision, Murray v. Pearson, in 1936, which allowed black students to attend the University of Maryland for the first time.
Over his lifetime, Marshall’s church life was centered in three African American Episcopal parishes: (1) Saint Katherine’s in Baltimore where Marshall was born in 1908 and lived until he moved to New York in 1936. Marshall was also confirmed at Saint Katherine’s. (2) Saint Phillip’s in New York City where Marshall lived for almost three decades and where he was active on the Vestry and served as Senior Warden and Deputy to the 1964 General Convention; and (3) Saint Augustine’s in Washington, DC where he and his family worshipped from 1965 until the years before his death in 1993.
On Sunday, May 17, 2020, the Episcopal Church remembered Thurgood Marshall, a day established by the General Convention in 2009 to celebrate the life and work of this life-long Episcopalian as “Public Servant, Lawyer, Jurist and Prophetic Witness.” Not coincidentally, May 17 also marks Thurgood Marshall’s landmark civil rights victory before the U.S. Supreme Court when, in 1954, he successfully argued the famous Brown v. Board of Education case. The doctrine of “Separate but Equal” was ruled constitutionally invalid by the Supreme Court and American public schools were required, by law, to desegregate.
Thurgood Marhshall's legacy continues in the Episcopal Church as we continually fight for equality and dignity of all of God's children.