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University of Maryland law professor Larry S. Gibson highlights the formative years of the African-American civil rights attorney and Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993). Professor Gibson was the first African-American law professor at the University of Virginia in 1972. Most of the biographers of Marshall covered Marshall’s professional life. Gibson, by contrast, focused solely on the first thirty years of Thurgood life.
Gibson traces Marshall’s family background and academic path, and goes into detail of his early professional life. Marshall faced segregated schools, bars on admittance to professional schools, low pay for blacks and justice system that provided little justice for blacks. Marshall came from a family of high achievers and of unusual names. His uncle Fearless Williams was personal assistant to the president of the B&O Railroad. His grandfathers Isaiah Olive Branch Williams and Thorney Good Marshall were successful Baltimore grocers. His Mother’s father was born free in rural Maryland joined the Union Navy and served on Union vessels during the Civil War. His paternal grandfather had been a slave, a Union volunteer and a Buffalo soldier. Thorney changed his name to Thoroughgood when he joined the Union Army. Marshall named after his grandfather changed his name from Thoroughgood to Thurgood.
Marshall’s mother was a teacher and was determined her two sons obtain a college degree and become professionals. William Audrey became a physician and Thurgood an attorney. Marshall graduated from Lincoln University cum laude in 1930. Lincoln was the “Black Princeton” founded in 1854 and was the first degree granting college for Blacks. Thurgood graduated cum laude from Howard University Law School in 1933. Howard University was a leading Black University in those days. Trained to debate by his father, Thurgood developed a considerable command of language and research skill on his high school debate team but this was further refined serving on his college varsity debating team. I noted that a number of the Supreme Court Justice were successful debaters on their University debating teams.
Gibson wrote a well documented book. He used interviews, documents and personal papers rarely shared by the family. Thurgood Marshall Jr. wrote the opening of the book. Marshall was the attorney for the NAACP during the years of the Civil Rights battles. He was chief counsel for the plaintiff in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case “Brown V Board of Education”, in which schools segregation was declared unconstitutional. He was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice appointed in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Vince Bailey narrated the book.
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