Posts Tagged ‘desegregation’

TDIH: Thurgood Marshall Confirmed to the Supreme Court

“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.”–President Lyndon Johnson, on nominating Thurgood Marshall to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court

“There is very little truth in the old refrain that one cannot legislate equality. Laws not only provide concrete benefits; they can even change the hearts of men–some men anyway–for good or for evil.”Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall (on telephone), President Lyndon B. Johnson, 6/13/1967
by Yoichi R. Okamoto/White House Photograph Office
via National Archives [public domain]

Fifty years ago today, August 30, 1967, Thurgood Marshall’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was confirmed by the Senate, making him the first African American to serve as a Justice on the highest court in the land. Marshall had a lasting and significant impact on civil rights in the United States. He argued and won cases, and later wrote opinions from the bench that changed the nation’s laws on segregation and racial injustice.

Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908, the great-grandson of a slave. He attended the racially segregated public schools there graduating from high school in 1925, then went on to the historically black Lincoln University in Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, graduating with honors in 1930. He then applied to the all-white University of Maryland Law School but was denied admission because he was Black. This event went on to direct his future professional life. He was accepted at another historically black school–Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C., that same year. He received his law degree in 1933, graduating first in his class (magna cum laude).

Between 1934 and 1961, as an attorney for the NAACP, Marshall traveled throughout the United States, representing clients in many different disputes involving questions of racial justice. Marshall’s first major civil rights case came in 1936 when he successfully sued the University of Maryland for their unfair admissions policy. Murray v. Pearson was the first in a long line of cases designed to undermine the legal basis for racial segregation in the United States.

He argued thirty-two cases before the Supreme Court, more than anyone else in history, and won an astounding twenty-nine of them. His first victory at the high court was in 1940. Chambers v. Florida demonstrated that police brutality and coerced confessions were a violation of the 14th Amendment’s right to due process. Other notable cases were Smith v. Allwright (1944), which invalidated the so-called white primary (the practice of barring blacks from the Democratic party primary in a state where that party controlled state government), Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), which prohibited state courts from enforcing racially restrictive real estate covenants, and the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which invalidated state-enforced racial segregation in the public schools.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he wrote over 150 decisions. None of his 98 majority decisions were ever reversed by the Supreme Court.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson named him Solicitor General of the United States, another racial first. The Solicitor General represents the U.S. when it is sued by a corporation or an individual. He served until 1967, when Johnson nominated him to the Supreme Court, winning 14 of the 19 cases he argued.

In his 24 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Marshall was an outspoken liberal on a Court dominated by conservatives, often voting in the minority. He consistently voted to uphold gender and racial affirmative action policies. He also dissented in every case that the Court refused to overturn a death sentence, as well as opposing all efforts to limit abortion rights. He believed that the Constitution requires the government to provide certain benefits to everyone–including education, legal services and access to the courts–regardless of their ability to pay for them. He succeeded in fashioning new protections under the law for women, children, homeless persons, and prisoners.

On June 27, 1991, Marshall announced his intention to retire from the Court. President George H.W. Bush nominated 43-year-old Black conservative Clarence Thomas to replace him a week later. Marshall died of heart failure in Bethesda, Maryland on January 24, 1993, at the age of 84.

To learn more about Justice Marshall, navigate to these websites available on SIRS Knowledge Source:

Justice for All: The Legacy of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall Before the Court

Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary

Or direct your students to the SIRS Knowledge Source feature on the U.S. Supreme Court. Students can browse editorially-selected cases by Constitutional Articles & Amendments, or by Topic. This feature includes a list of Landmark Cases by category, profiles of the current Justices, as well as biographical information on all the Justices who have served on the Court throughout history, including Justice Marshall. A glossary, a graphic that explains how the Court is organized, supplementary references with links to related articles in the product, and a link to the official U.S. Supreme Court website are also provided. An additional link includes the text of the U.S. Constitution.

Don’t have SIRS Knowledge Source at your school or library? Free trials are available.

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Barbara Johns & the Moton High School Strike

Barbara Johns & the Moton High School Strike Research Topic

Barbara Johns & the Moton High School Strike Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

We have all heard about legendary civil rights heroes such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Little Rock Nine, but few today remember Barbara Rose Johns and the role she played in school desegregation. Sixty-five years ago this April, she led a strike in Farmville, Virginia, that had repercussions in school districts across the United States. A little background: Barbara was born in New York City in 1935, but her family moved to Prince Edward County, Virginia, where her father ran a small farm. Her uncle was Vernon Johns, a prominent civil rights activist. In 1951 in Farmville, there were two high schools. Farmville High School was for the white students, and it had plenty of classroom space, a gymnasium, a modern auditorium, locker rooms and a cafeteria, among other niceties. Moton High School – specifically, Robert Russa Moton High School (named after the influential black educator who took over for Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute) – was not so nice.

Robert Russa Moton High School

Robert Russa Moton High School via National Archives [Public Domain]

Moton was in a state of disrepair. The toilets were old and cracked; the roof leaked so bad that some students kept umbrellas with them to keep the dripping water from getting on their papers; wood-burning stoves did not provide adequate heat in the winter months; text books and supplies were secondhand and scarce, but worst of all – the school was dreadfully overcrowded. More than 450 students were crammed into a space meant for 180. Some classes were held in makeshift classrooms, shacks made of wood frames and tar-coated paper walls that the students called “chicken coops,” while other students attended classes in buses in the parking lot. Like most students, Johns, a 16-year-old junior at the time, was extremely frustrated at the conditions at the school. She expressed her concerns to her teacher, Inez Davenport. Barbara said she wished something could be done about it. Davenport then said, “Why don’t you do something about it?” Barbara did not forget that question and later conceived the idea of a school strike. The strike was held on April 23, 1951. The next day, a student strike committee met with the school superintendent who listened to their concerns, but then threatened to expel them and fire the teachers if they did not return to classes. He did, however, promise them a new school but did not say when they would get it. This was all the students were hoping for. According to Johns, it never occurred to them that the strike would lead to a desegregation lawsuit. They just wanted improvements to the school, or, at most, a new school. Students contacted the NAACP in Richmond for help. Lawyers Oliver W. Hill and Spottswood Robinson were concerned about how serious the striking students were, but after meeting with them, they decided to take the case, but it would not be just about school improvements…it would be about desegregation.

Brown v Board of Education Research Topic

Brown v Board of Education Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

The case was called Dorothy E. Davis v County School Board of Prince Edward County. This lawsuit was rolled up into the larger Brown v. Board of Education case, which was decided in 1954. The Earl Warren Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and held that segregation was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This paved the way for the integration of schools across America. As for Barbara Johns, she finished high school in Montgomery, Alabama. She then attended college in Atlanta and then at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She married a minister, raised five children and was a librarian in the Philadelphia Public School system until her death in 1991.

Learn more about Barbara Rose Johns, desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement in eLibrary.


African-American History Topic Search

African Americans Research Topic

Earl Warren: Justice for All (Book)

Education Topic Search

Education and Racial Integration Equal Protection (Exploring the Constitution Series) (Book)

Education in the U.S. Research Topic

Jim Crow Laws Research Topic

Journal of African-American History (Scholarly Journal)

Little Rock (Book)

U.S. Constitution Research Topic

Teaching ToolThe Girl from the Tar Paper School,” by Teri Kanefield, tells the story of Barbara Rose Johns and the Farmville, VA Strike.


July 1964: 50 Years of the Civil Rights Act

July 2, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of a turning point in American civil rights history. It was on this day the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. Many consider this law the toughest civil rights statute since Reconstruction and perhaps the most significant piece of legislation of the entire twentieth century. The Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. It banned racial segregation in the workplace, schools and public facilities. It protected voter rights by barring unequal registration requirements for people of color, although it did not bar all voting discrimination.

While it was originally proposed by President Kennedy in 1963, he had reservations about passing civil rights legislation. Southern legislators who controlled the Senate were opposed to it, and President John Kennedy wanted to ensure his other legislative priorities would be given attention and passage. President Kennedy believed he would have a second term to enact civil rights legislation.  His assassination in November 1963 would be the catalyst for President Lyndon Johnson, a former senator from the South, to use his political skill in working with the Senate to achieve a law long overdue even risking his own political future.

President Lyndon Johnson shakes the hand of Dr. Martin Luther King at the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Beyond the surface of the Civil Rights Act, its impact was almost immediate and its legacy varied. Strides were quickly made in regard to desegregation in public accommodations and voting rights which helped spur the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  While there remained inequities among the races, division by race and class primarily, opportunities for African Americans, and in later years Latinos, Asians and Native Americans increased.  Rep. John Lewis, a notable veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, in recalling the days of discrimination and segregation, perhaps put the impact and legacy of the law best:  “Those signs are gone, the fear is gone.  America is a better nation and we are a better people because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”