Thurgood Marshall

`FIGHT any white man who calls you a nigger," his father instructed the young Thurgood Marshall, growing up in Baltimore in the 1920s. The son heeded his father's order, though in his own history-making way.

Mr. Marshall, who died Sunday, fought his battles against bigotry in courts of law. As a lawyer and a Supreme Court justice, he played a central role in destroying segregation and legalized discrimination in America.

Soon after he graduated from law school in 1933, Marshall signed on with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. For 25 years he crisscrossed America challenging segregation in education, suing for voting rights for African-Americans, and defending blacks against lynch-mob justice.

At a time when "separate but equal" was the law governing race relations in America, the only way to eliminate segregation in elementary and high schools would be to prove that separate schools for blacks were inherently unequal. Marshall argued this principle in a series of legal actions that culminated in the Supreme Court: The court's 1954 decision in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., barring school segregation, was a pivotal event in the death of Jim Crow - state-sanctions segregation.

President Kennedy appointed Marshall to a federal appeals court in 1961. In 1967 President Johnson elevated him to the Supreme Court, after laying the groundwork two years earlier by naming Marshall to be the US solicitor general - the nation's top advocate before the high bench.

For 24 years as a Supreme Court justice, until his retirement in 1991, Marshall continued his lifelong crusade for racial justice and, more generally, for the rights of the poor and the powerless. He also was a staunch champion of freedom of speech and of women's right to choose abortion; and he was an unyielding foe of the death penalty.

Thurgood Marshall will be remembered as a brilliant lawyer and a courageous judge. He left an enduring legacy as a powerful voice of moral authority in the articulation of American ideals. The work that he did so much to advance must be carried on in the spirit that he embodied.

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