Thurgood Marshall's Legacy

Deputies to the 111th Diocesan Convention voted on Jan. 27 to ask the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church to include the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the church's Book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The legislation, presented by members of Marshall's former congregation - St. Augustine's in Southwest Washington, D.C. - also established May 17 as a day to commemorate his Christian witness in the diocese. The date marks the anniversary of Marshall's landmark 1954 civil rights victory, the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that desegregated public schools.

The process for getting former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall's name into the Book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts took three years from the 2006 General Convention's acceptance of the recommendation by its Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music Committee.

The committee sent Marshall's nomination to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music and the proposal was adopted by the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. Both houses concurred, and the Standing Commission made a positive recommendation. Marshall's nomination was voted on for the first time at the General Convention in 2009, and could not be included in Lesser Feasts and Fasts until it was endorsed by two consecutive conventions.  The Feast Day of Thurgood Marshall on May 17 is now included in a newly published liturgical resource, 'Holy Women, Holy Men.'

Reasoning presented for the resolution:

Thurgood Marshall was the grandson of a freed slave who fought in the Union army and later ran a grocery store in Baltimore, Maryland. His father was a Pullman car porter and worked in a country club whose membership was restricted to whites. Thurgood's mother graduated from college and was a school teacher in the Baltimore school system. Born in Baltimore in 1908, Thurgood attended Baltimore public schools and then attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. In order to send Thurgood to law school at Howard University in Washington, DC, his mother pawned her engagement and wedding rings.


Thurgood Marshall had wanted to attend law school at the University of Maryland but was denied entrance because he was a Negro. The indignity would not be forgotten. In 1935 Thurgood successfully sued the University, causing it to open its doors to minority students. For a short while following graduation from Howard, Thurgood was in private practice in Baltimore. In 1936 Charles Hamilton Houston, chief counsel for the NAACP, called him to come to New York to be his deputy. Four years later the Legal Defense Fund, dedicated to civil rights advocacy and litigation, appointed Thurgood Marshall as its first director. Thurgood Marshall has been called by many the most important African American of the twentieth century. He spent thirty years crisscrossing the South, filing lawsuits on behalf of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. He was in great physical danger through those tumultuous and triumphant years. On more than one occasion, lynch mobs sought to hang him. In 1954 he headed a team of lawyers and successfully argued the Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court, overturning centuries of discrimination in education. President Kennedy appointed him to the Federal bench in 1961. In 1965 President Johnson named him Solicitor General and then Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1967 - he was the first African American to hold either position. Justice Marshall brought incredible change to the social, economic and political structure of the nation. Without regard for his personal safety and with immense energy, he tore down the barriers which had kept generation of African Americans from taking their rightful place in society. Thurgood Marshall was the author of major social changes from which everyone benefits. He died on January 24, 1993.


See also:
Testimony from Within the Church