Retired Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the foremost legal architects of the civil-rights movement and the first black Justice on the Court, died of heart failure Jan. 24 at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He was 84.
Justice Marshall, who formally retired from the High Court in October 1991, had a legal career that spanned six decades. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.) Appointed by President Johnson in 1967 to a liberal-majority Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, he later carved out a role as one of the great dissenters to the Court's increasingly conservative rulings.
But he made his most lasting mark in the field of education as the legal director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund for 23 years before he became a federal judge. He spearheaded the civil-rights group's assault on the doctrine that allowed the separation of blacks and whites in schools, colleges, and elsewhere.
After winning Supreme Court victories in the realm of higher education, he argued for the plaintiffs in five consolidated cases that challenged the constitutionality of racially "separate but equal'' schools that the High Court had upheld in 1896.
In its unanimous 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.''
Justice Marshall wrote vigorous dissents in a 1974 decision barring a desegregation plan that would have crossed the Detroit city lines into the suburbs and in a 1983 decision upholding a Minnesota law granting tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools.
In a statement, President Clinton called Justice Marshall "a giant
in the quest for human rights and equal opportunity.''