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Tour of African American Historical Sites in Baltimore Maryland
Item 1 of 17
On this site is the childhood home of Thurgood Marshall, one of the most important Civil Rights advocates and voices and the first African-American elevated to the Supreme Court. Born in 1908 in Baltimore, Thurgood Marshall was denied admission to Maryland Law School because of his race and went to Howard University in Washington DC instead. Following his graduation at Howard, Marshall returned to Baltimore to start a private practice and begin a 25-year affiliation with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Prior to his appointment to the US Court of Appeals in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, Thurgood Marshall was a lawyer in the historical case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the case that the Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black and white students was unconstitutional. From these humble beginnings at this site in Baltimore, Thurgood Marshall became one of the most fundamental people in the Civil Rights movement.

  • Historical Marker in front of Thurgood Marshall's childhood home.
  • Thurgood Marshall as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 1976.
  • George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James Nabrit, congratulating each other following Supreme Court decision declaring segregation unconstitutional (1954). Image Courtesy of the Library of Conress.

Thurgood Marshall’s Childhood in Baltimore

Thurgood Marshall was born at 1632 Division Street in Baltimore to Norma and William Marshall. Thurgood’s ancestors were slaves in pre-Civil War America and had come from the modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo. Norma Marshall was a kindergarten teacher in Baltimore and his father, William, was an amateur writer, a dining-car waiter, and later was a chief steward at a ritzy club. On his father’s days off, William Marshall took his children to the local court where they watched legal procedures and the arguments presented. The family debated these points afterwards, with William challenging his children’s points and constantly encouraging them to improve on their arguments.

During Thurgood’s childhood and teenage years (1908 to 1926), Baltimore was home to a substantial, yet controversial, type of racial discrimination, as the city bordered the Jim Crow south, Washington DC, and the north. The death rate for African Americans in Baltimore was nearly twice as high as Caucasians, and school segregation forced young Thurgood to attend an all-black school. Common to many places in the US at the time, Thurgood Marshall also had to use segregated bathrooms, and there were few public bathrooms were African Americans. Nonetheless, Thurgood’s parents sheltered him from the racial reality from the time, as they earned a decent income and Thurgood attended first-class schools. 

Thurgood left Baltimore when he was accepted to Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania, and after being denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School due to his race, Thurgood went to Howard Law School in Washington DC. It was here that Thurgood Marshall was introduced to the world of the NAACP. 

Later Achievements

From his beginnings in Baltimore, which arguably shaped his passions toward both law and the advancement of African Americans in America, Thurgood Marshall graduated from Howard Law School and started a private practice in Baltimore. From here, and with his prominent association with the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall shaped racial relations in the US and was a prominent force in ending segregation. Some of his most famous cases and achievements included:

1935 - Wins first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson
1940 - Wins first of 29 Supreme Court victories (Chambers v. Florida)
1944 - Successfully argues Smith v. Allwright, overthrowing the South's "white primary"
1954 - Wins Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, landmark case that demolishes legal basis for segregation in America
1961 - Nominated to Second Court of Appeals by President John F. Kennedy
1965 - Appointed U.S. Solicitor General by President Lyndon Johnson
1967 - Becomes first African American elevated to the US Supreme Court
"Thurgood Marshall." Oyez. Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech, n.d. Mar 30, 2016.