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Thurgood Marshall

By Jan Norwood

A critical event in the creation of supplier diversity took place on March 5, 1969, when President Nixon signed Executive Order 11458. The order formed a national program aimed at supporting minority business enterprises. The Supreme Court provides judicial reviews of all executive orders, and it was no coincidence that serving on the highest court during that time was a key figure in American history.

Thurgood Marshall is known for his work as a civil rights lawyer and justice on the Supreme Court. Foremost, Marshall was a proponent of equity and inclusion.

Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908. His father, William Canfield Marshall worked as a waiter and steward at an all-white country club. Norma Arica Williams, his mother, was an elementary teacher. His family lived a comfortable, middle class life. His father frequently took Marshall and his brother to the courthouse to watch court cases. Afterwards they would debate what they had seen. When Thurgood got into trouble at school, he was required to memorize parts of the U.S. Constitution. This punishment would later serve him well in his legal career. After graduating from Lincoln University, Thurgood wanted to apply to the University of Maryland School of Law, but he did not apply due to the school’s segregation policy. He went on the graduate from Howard University School of Law in 1933.

He started a private law practice in Baltimore after graduation. In 1934, he began his affiliation with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when he successfully argued a case, Murray v. Pearson, for the organization. In the case, Donald Murray was denied "separate-but-equal" treatment because he was denied access to an accredited local law school. 

At age 32, Marshall became the Executive Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He argued many cases before the Supreme Court, but his most historic case was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954. The case was one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement and helped establish the precedent that “separate-but-equal” education and other services were not, in fact, equal at all.

Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Lydon B. Johnson in 1967 becoming the first African American justice to sit on the Supreme Court. During his 24 years on the Supreme Court, he remained a strong believer in individual rights and never wavered in his devotion to end discrimination.


Editors, H. (2021, June 30).

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