Digital Exhibits > Justice Thurgood Marshall Digital Exhibit

The Harris County Law Library celebrates the legal career and monumental contributions of Justice Thurgood Marshall in honor of National African American History Month 2016.

National African American History Month 2016

February is National African American History Month. For the last 40 years, each President of the United States has issued a proclamation designating February as a national celebration of the important contributions African Americans have made throughout U.S. history. In this year’s proclamation, President Barack Obama charged librarians “to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.” The staff at the Harris County Law Library can think of no more appropriate activity than to honor perhaps the most influential African American lawyer in U.S. history and the first African American to rise to the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court— Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall - Early Life

Thurgood Marshall was born July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from Lincoln University with honors in 1930 and applied to University of Maryland Law School, but was rejected despite his academic qualifications due to the school’s segregation policy. Instead, Marshall attended Howard University Law School where he graduated magna cum laude in 1933. The following year, he took a staff attorney position with the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, which was the start of a legal career that would span 60 years. Here you will find highlights of Marshall’s legal career, which left a lasting impression on American law found in the books throughout the Harris County Law Library and on our local legal community, including Houston’s own Thurgood Marshall School of Law.

Thurgood Marshall - The Civil Rights Attorney

From 1934 to 1961, Marshall was an attorney for the NAACP and argued more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than anyone before or since. His advocacy was extremely effective and he prevailed in 29 of his 32 case before the high court, including the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education in which the Court decided that the “separate but equal” doctrine was unconstitutional.

Thurgood Marshall - The Solicitor General

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Marshall to serve as the first African American U.S. Solicitor General. Marshall, who had served as a judge for the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals for 4 years, accepted the nomination. Over the next 2 years, he argued 19 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including Miranda v. Arizona in which “Miranda Rights” were established.

Justice Thurgood Marshall - The U.S. Supreme Court Justice

In 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall was the first African American to serve on the high court. He became an influential member of the Court’s liberal majority early in his tenure and later served as an outspoken dissenter as the Court took a more conservative tone. Marshall served on the Court until his retirement in 1991. He passed away on January 24, 1993.

Justice Marshall and Law Libraries

In 1977, Justice Marshall penned the Court’s opinion in Bounds v. Smith. Holding that prisons must provide inmates with access to law libraries or other legal assistance, Justice Marshall noted that adequate access to law libraries to research legal claims is important for both attorneys’ and self-represented litigants’ access to the court system.

Further Reading

For more on the extraordinary life of Justice Thurgood Marshall, see the In Memoriam notation at the beginning of Volume 510 of U.S. Reports, available in the Law Library. Additional information is available online through the following sources:

Photograph Credits

The photographs of Justice Marshall that appear in this exhibit are part of the Photos, Prints, and Drawings collection from the Library of Congress, available at