Segments in this Video

Introduction (02:41)


When the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation with Brown v. Board of Education, no one knew what would happen next. But it was just one step in Thurgood Marshall's fight against segregation. (Graphic images)

Birth of a Nation (02:09)

In 1915, the Ku Klux Klan was revived. "The Birth of a Nation" mixed history with fiction, affecting how many white people looked at blacks and inspiring segregationism. (Graphic images)

Segregated Childhood (01:55)

Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore in 1908, just 12 years after the Supreme Court approved the norm of separate-but-equal. Marshall grew up in a segregated neighborhood. He married Vivien "Buster" Burey in college.

Howard University Law School (02:00)

In fall 1929, Marshall began attending the Howard University Law School. Charles H. Houston, the school's dean, developed the school and deeply influenced Marshall.

Charles H. Houston (02:36)

In the 1920s, the South was home to less than 100 black lawyers; they had little power to fight segregation. Houston sought to do just that, helped by Marshall. They worked out a plan with the NAACP, focused on fighting Plessy v. Ferguson. (Graphic images)

Challenging Plessy v. Ferguson (03:24)

Houston saw the legal system as the only way to fight for equality. Houston and the NAACP sought to force states to comply with the equal clause of Plessy, which would be too expensive and lead to integration.

Trip of Documentation (02:56)

In June 1933, Marshall finished his degree. Houston and Marshall traveled through the South, documenting inequality. Marshall was appalled at what he saw.

Into Practice (02:28)

The Great Depression hit. Marshall was offered a scholarship to Harvard, but he opted to open his own law office, concentrating on civil rights cases. Houston became the NAACP's general counsel.

Murray v. Pearson (01:31)

Marshall filed suit on behalf of Donald Gaines Murray, a black student denied admittance to the University of Maryland's law school. With the help of Houston, the case was decided in Murray's favor.

Odd Couple (02:32)

Houston and Marshall worked well together, despite major differences in personality. Marshall's focus on civil rights caused his law firm to fail, so Houston invited him to work with the NAACP in New York City.

Teacher Pay (02:21)

In 1936, Marshall began a series of suits to equalize teacher pay. These were violations in the written law. Wherever suits were filed, the NAACP expanded. Marshall built common ground between factions of the black population.

Internal Politics (01:56)

Houston won a Supreme Court precedent for student integration. He was also growing frustrated with the internal strife at the NAACP. In 1938, Houston left Marshall in charge of the NAACP's legal arm.

Mr. Civil Rights (03:24)

Marshall traveled throughout the U.S. to facilitate and build up interest in local legal actions. More and more black people saw him function on equal terms with whites.

On the Road and at Home (03:02)

Although Marshall was on the road more than ever, when he was home, he and Buster immersed themselves in a community of black artists and intellectuals. Marshall recounts how the police handled the Harlem Race Riots.

Sensation and Danger (03:12)

The NAACP expanded its legal work to include voting, transportation, housing and criminal cases. These cases kept up interest in civil rights, but they were hugely dangerous. Marshall's consistent success gave him a heroic image.

Is it Worth it? (02:36)

As fast as Marshall won cases, segregationists found ways to circumvent the law. People began to wonder if the cases were worth it. Marshall's fame helped blacks believe, but it also made him a target. (Graphic language)

Bellwether Case (02:13)

In 1944, Marshall won Smith v. Allwright at the Supreme Court, which ended Texas's white-only primaries.

Segregated Services (03:07)

World War II brought new challenges. Black soldiers were unwilling to submit to racial injustice. A Tennessee race riot led to attempted murder charges against 25 blacks and the beating deaths of two defendants. (Graphic language)

Close Shave (03:32)

Marshall was too ill to handle the initial case, but helped defend two people who were later charged. Marshall was arrested and nearly lynched.

Brown v. Board of Education (02:35)

By 1950, Marshall had survived several close shaves with death--and won 10 major Supreme Court cases. In 1954, he won Brown v. Board of Education, ending legal segregation of the public schools.

Just the Start of the Fight (02:44)

Overview of eight Supreme Court cases Marshall won to advance civil rights in the United States. In 1967, Marshall became the first black justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Credits: Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP (01:37)

Credits: Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP

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Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP

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Civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall’s triumph in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to desegregate America’s public schools completed the final leg of an heroic journey to end legal segregation. For 20 years, during wartime and the Depression, Marshall had traveled hundreds of thousands of miles through the Jim Crow South of the United States, fighting segregation case by case, establishing precedent after precedent, all leading up to one of the most important legal decisions in American history. Along the way, he escaped the gun of a Dallas sheriff, was pursued by the Ku Klux Klan on Long Island, hid in bushes from a violent mob in Detroit, and even survived his own lynching. In this impossible environment, Thurgood Marshall won more Supreme Court cases than any lawyer in American history, and set the stage for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Marshall, who went on to become the first black Supreme Court justice in 1967, made the work of civil rights pioneers like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks possible, by laying the groundwork to end legal segregation and changing the American legal landscape.

Length: 57 minutes

Item#: BVL60754

Copyright date: ©2014

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