Thurgood Marshall was the first African American to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was sworn in in 1967, the year this photo was taken.

Photograph by Yoichi R. Okamoto, courtesy National Archives

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  • On October 2, 1967, Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall was the grandson of a slave, and could not attend public law school in his native state of Maryland due to the school’s segregationist policy. He instead attended Howard University, and three years after his graduation, his legal arguments forced the University of Maryland to end its segregation.

    Marshall argued many cases in front of the Supreme Court before joining it, winning 29 out of 32. His most famous case is probably his successful prosecution in Brown v. Board of Education, which eventually forced public schools across the U.S. to desegregate.

    As a justice, Marshall participated in many important decisions regarding civil rights and the role of the United States Constitution, and was a staunch opponent of the death penalty.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    constitution Noun

    system of ideas and general laws that guide a nation, state, or other organization.

    death penalty Noun

    punishment by execution. Also called capital punishment.

    desegregate Verb

    to end segregation by race.

    legal Adjective

    allowed by law.

    opponent Noun

    rival, or an individual or group who takes the opposite side in a confrontation.

    public education Noun

    schools funded by the government and the standards to which those schools are held.

    slave Noun

    person who is owned by another person or group of people.

    Supreme Court Noun

    highest judicial authority on issues of national or constitutional importance in the U.S.