The ICAS Lectures


Thurgood Marshall:
American Revolutionary

Alexander K. Kim

ICAS Summer Symposium
The Korean Diaspora
August 14, 2004 9:30 AM -- 5:30 PM
Montgomery County Community College
Science Center Room 214
340 DeKalb Pike
Blue Bell, PA 19422

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
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Biographic Sketch & Links: Alexander K. Kim

Thurgood Marshall:
American Revolutionary

Alexander K. Kim 2


Throughout history, we see the faces of many people who stand out in society. One such man is Thurgood Marshall. He was born in 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland, and was a prominent figure in the course that civil rights took. Segregation was less prominent in northern Maryland than in southern Maryland. Despite facing overwhelming obstacles and heartbreaking setbacks, Thurgood Marshall was a powerful figure in fighting for equal rights and protection guaranteed under the Constitution. Marshall paved the way for other civil rights activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. But Marshall was a different man, separating himself from radical activists. What inspired me about him was his approach to fighting racism and how he fought for equal rights. All my years of American History focused on Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil disobedience or Malcolm X's militant action. Marshall was something new to learn about and played a critical role in the Civil Rights era, perhaps even more so that King or Malcolm X. He used the law to fight for equal rights and opportunities for all races rather than violence or demonstrations and that made his contribution to society all the more prominent and significant. Marshall's legacy has more to teach than just a history lesson of his accomplishments. Marshall was indeed quite a character. While no man is quite perfect, Marshall did whatever was necessary to succeed and fought to maintain his dignity as a citizen of the United States. I read this book in anticipation of encountering a legend in spirit. What I got, indeed, was a rich text full of inspiring and admirable aspects of a man who was pivotal in the Civil Rights movement. Marshall's life taught me that I have to fight for what is right, legally and morally, as well as never give up when fighting for my goals. One other lesson Marshall can teach is that no matter what skin color I am, it is possible to reach any goal, with hard work, determination, and desire.

Thurgood Marshall: Revolution in the Making

Marshall was taught to never accept any put-downs or negative words about his skin color. He was taught to stand up for himself. Marshall always had to fight against the hatred of white segregationists. However, as a skillful lawyer, he used powerful tactics by using that disdain for blacks to his advantage. He presented himself as a humble lawyer, who was simply trying to defend an innocent man's rights, winning over the racist judge as well as local authorities. Marshall continued to exercise his influence in higher court cases, winning nineteen cases in the Supreme Court, including the famous Brown vs. the Board of Education that established the desegregation of schools nationwide. If a racist jury sentenced his client to the death penalty, Marshall would appeal, even as far as the U.S. Supreme Court. He never gave up, always fighting for a decision that was just. Many of his early cases were emotionally difficult, as young, innocent blacks constantly were arrested and tried unfairly. Marshall never gave up, continued arguing, always hoping to find an alternative penalty to the death sentence. The cases that Marshall lost broke his heart, knowing that his client's only option was to face the death penalty. However, the cases that Marshall won against white courts succeeded in bringing him fame as the lawyer who could defeat the Jim Crow law system. His determination is an example for all to follow.

Changing the System

Many cases Marshall argued would expand the protection and rights of minorities of our generation. Marshall joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also known as the NAACP, and argued cases that dealt * An essay - book review - prepared for presentation at the ICAS Summer Symposium: The Korean Diaspora, August 14, 2004, Montgomery with the equal protection and rights under the 14th amendment of the Constitution. In the Deep South, Marshall took cases and defended who blacks were forced to confess through torturous beatings and sign false confessions to crimes they didn't commit. He fought to give these innocent men a chance at life, even if it was in prison, to avoid the death penalty. He argued, as Supreme Court Justice, that the death penalty shouldn't be used because it was cruel punishment and it was unfairly administered. Although the death penalty was reinstated, Marshall would write a dissent that would call the administration of the death penalty "unconstitutional because it is excessive" (p. 360). Thurgood was fighting for fair judgment of convicts, perhaps out of pity or in memory of former clients who were received the death penalty. Marshall not only helped to aid in the civil rights movement, but he also helped bring justice to hundreds of innocent people. His fights for equal justice taught me to fight for what is right, and stand up for what is right in the law and morals.

Thurgood Marshall: From Beginning to End

At a young age, Marshall had witnessed many things in his life. He had been called obscenities and rejected from colleges because of his color. His fight for equal rights in the south angered many racist organizations. Lynch mobs and assassins were everywhere he went, threatening to claim his life. Wherever he went, there was at least one local authority acting as his bodyguard. Marshall lived a hard life as a civil rights lawyer and it became even harder as he began his years in the appellate courts. We all have our demons to confront and Marshall had plenty of them. He was under constant scrutiny from the media, segregationists, and younger black generation. Marshall struggled with grief over dying family members, fighting factions in the NAACP, his drug addiction problems, and harsh criticism from segregationists in the Senate. Marshall was also under constant scrutiny from the FBI. Although Marshall eventually came to terms with the head of the FBI, the tension remained and put strain on Thurgood as he began to deal with major cases that would change the shape of segregated America. Despite these, Marshall was still a successful judge who made impact on the courtrooms. His experience as a lawyer aided him in cases involving rights of individuals. As a judge however, Marshall's knowledge had to be diverse. He was active in cases dealing with rights, but was limited in cases that dealt with finance, and other legal matters. He relied heavily on his clerks' research and for this he was criticized as being lazy. Perhaps he was, but no one is perfect in this world. He worked as a civil rights lawyer and had little to no experience in cases that were of different topics. He may have been evading his responsibilities by turning down financial and tax, but it didn't make Marshall a criminal. I believe that Marshall saw it in his best interests not to get involved due to a very serious lack of experience in such cases. Finally, after more than twenty years on the Supreme Court, Marshall was the only liberal left on a conservative bench when he retired. In 1993, Marshall died at the age of eighty-four.

Thurgood Marshall: From Lawyer to Justice

Thurgood Marshall faced many challenges as a Supreme Court Justice. Critics blasted Marshall, claiming he was inadequate and far too liberal, even saying he belonged to communist organizations. Against all odds, Marshall continued to fight for his dream, an integrated America, where whites and minorities were given equal opportunities. He courageously fought against the racist white legal system and braved possible death by defending blacks accused of aggression against whites. He lived through several presidential changes, from President Eisenhower to former President George Bush Sr. Party, even meeting with President Kennedy and befriending President Johnson. Party changes in the Supreme Court left him without allies, but still he continued to fight. Marshall was also deeply involved with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement that he led, using his legal skill to rescue demonstrators from tight situations. The NAACP was King's major financial resource, as the NAACP financially supported King's movement through fundraising, as well as providing bail money and legal advice. Marshall died a bitter end, succumbing to his deteriorating health and depression. Yet he was the first African American to ever get a seat on the Supreme Court. He broke the skin color barriers that held many brilliant colored men back for years. He showed us that no matter what a person's skin color was, he or she could become anything with desire, hard work, and determination.


In conclusion, I have learned from reading this book authored by Juan Williams, a noted political analyst and national correspondent for The Morning Edition, that no goal can be withheld from us. Thurgood Marshall taught us that through hard work, determination, and desire, we could achieve anything we want to in our lives. Some saw Marshall as a radical; others as a beacon of light in a time where racism threatened to tear the nation apart. Thurgood Marshall was many things. He was a father, husband, lawyer, judge, and much more. The people of America know him best as Justice Marshall, for all the hard work he had done throughout the years to change the way the future generation enjoys equal rights and opportunities to the fullest extent. For Marshall his dream was to see America united, not only in its states, but its people as well. We can learn many things from Marshall's life, such as fighting for what is right, both within our own morals and the law. One last lesson Marshall left for us was that skin color was only a minor factor when trying to reach for dreams and goals. Despite his part African heritage, Marshall overcame racial barriers that restricted the minorities from receiving the promise of a new life in the "land of equal opportunity." He is man whose example we could all study and follow. His life provided me with a desire to dream and defend my dreams. Throughout history, many great men come and go. Thurgood Marshall was truly the man of the century.

"For inquire, I pray of you, of bygone ages,
And consider what the fathers have found…Will they not teach you,
And tell you, and utter words out of their understanding?"

- Job 8:8-10 - 3

1An essay - book review of Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams: Three Rivers Press, New York, 1998 - prepared for presentation at the ICAS Summer Symposium: The Korean Diaspora, August 14, 2004, Montgomery County Community College, Blue Bell, PA 19422.
2.A rising junior, Wissahickon High School, Ambler, Pennsylvania
3.New American Standard Bible, Old Testament, Job Chapter 8, Verses 8 – 10 The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA, 1977

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Andrew A. Chirls, Esquire, Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association and Partner of Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen LLP for his critical comments and review of my paper.

This page last updated 8/29/2005 jdb

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