Assistant Professor Tonya Evans
spoke to Harrisburg students on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 on “Thurgood Marshall: The Justice, the Legacy.” Professor Evans was the third and final speaker in the Legal Perspectives in African American History lecture series that was sponsored by the Black Law Student Association (BLSA)
throughout February’s celebration of Black History month.
Professor Evans described Thurgood Marshall as a brilliant and accomplished lawyer who graduated from her alma mater, the Howard University School of Law. Marshall’s legal career featured a long list of accomplishments, including winning 29 of 32 cases argued in front of the Supreme Court. Professor Evans touched on several of these important cases during her talk.
In Murray v. Pearson, Marshall defeated the University of Maryland in a suit based on their refusal to admit black applicants on the basis of race. Ironically, Professor Evans pointed out that the University Of Maryland’s library is now named after him. In 1938, he became the lead chair in the legal office of the NAACP.
In Smith v. Allwright, the Supreme Court held that the practice in some states of excluding African American voters from primary elections was unconstitutional. In Shelley v. Kraemer, the Supreme Court held judicial enforcement of a racial restrictive covenant in housing was unconstitutional. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that racial segregation in American Public Schools was unconstitutional. These cases exemplify not only the successes of Marshall’s legal career, but the beginning of Marshall legacy and how he began to pave the way for civil rights.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy nominated Marshall for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but opposition from the southern senators delayed his confirmation for several months. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson named Marshall the U.S. Solicitor General.
President Johnson stated, “I believe he earned his appointment. He deserves the appointment. He’s the best qualified by training and by very valuable service to the country. I believe it’s the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man, and the right place.”
In 1967, Marshall was nominated to the Supreme Court. During his tenure on the Supreme Court, he pushed for equal treatment for minorities. He expressed opposition to capital punishment and gave preference to federal rights over state rights.
Upon Marshall’s death in 1993, an editorial stated, “We make movies about Malcolm X, get a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but every day we live the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall.”
Professor Evans explained that the law was not just his career, but also his mission. She played several interview clips of Marshall throughout the lecture. After the presentation, students and professors engaged in a 15-minute discussion of Justice Marshall and his legacy.
Professor Wesley Oliver
indicated that Justice Marshall was the best lawyer of the 20th century and said that he would have like to have seen what Marshall could have accomplished as a lawyer if he had not been on the Supreme Court.