This Sunday will be the 109th birthday of the legendary Black lawyer and jurist Thurgood Marshall, who died in 1993. As a young lawyer, Marshall argued and won the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which mandated the desegregation of schools across the country. Later, he was named Solicitor General — at the time, the highest government post ever held by an African American. And in 1967, he became the first African-American Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. But there’s more to Thurgood than the headlines. In honor of his birthday, let’s check out five facts you may not know about the 20th century’s greatest civil rights lawyer, who also happens to be the founder of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
1–Thurgood Marshall’s birth name was Thoroughgood.
Thurgood Marshall was born Thoroughgood Marshall. He was named after his paternal grandfather, who had chosen the name “Thoroughgood” when he enlisted as a private in the Union Army during the Civil War. Marshall went by Thoroughgood until he shortened it to Thurgood in second grade, saying he “got tired of spelling all that out.”
2–Growing up, Marshall’s family owned a grocery store.
Marshall’s grandfather, Thorney Good, owned the biggest Negro grocery store in Baltimore, Maryland, T.G. Marshall’s. Throughout Marshall’s childhood, the store was a staple in the community, serving as a place for Blacks in the area to converse and congregate. Marshall’s family owned the store until Marshall eventually went off to Howard Law School in 1930.
3–Marshall won the superlative for “Quietest” in College.
Throughout his college career, Marshall acquired a large reputation for his outspoken, boisterous, and gabby nature. Upon graduating, Marshall was ironically awarded the superlative of “Quietest” in his class. While his gregarious and chatty personality made him quite popular among his fellow classmates, he lost the superlative of “Most Popular” to his classmate, Langston Hughes.
4–Marshall was a member of the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha.
Marshall was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha, the first fraternity founded by and for Black men, during his sophomore year at Lincoln University. Other notable Alpha Phi Alpha members include Marshall’s mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, and civil rights icons W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr., and William T. Coleman Jr.
5–Thurgood Marshall was on the Board of Trustees for the First Racially Integrated School in Washington, D.C.
Marshall helped shape the first racially integrated school in Washington, D.C., Georgetown Day School (GDS), which opened in 1945. He took his passion for ensuring equal education beyond the courtroom by taking a hands-on role on the GDS Board of Trustees, lending his valuable insight and advice to the administration in the formative years of the school. Marshall’s work with GDS allowed him to see his dream of a thriving integrated school system realized. The school was later attended by Marshall’s two sons, Thurgood Jr. and John William.
Bonus! He founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) in 1940, our nation’s oldest civil rights legal organization. We continue to fight for Thurgood Marshall’s signature issues of criminal justice, economic justice, education, and political participation. If you want to keep up with our work, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.