Galatians 6:9 – And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. NKJV
Most Americans think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, or Malcolm X when they think of the civil rights movement in America. While their contributions were of the utmost importance in the fight for social justice, others worked just as diligently to see Blacks participate in the lifestyle guaranteed to every American through the Constitution of the United States. Thurgood Marshall, born Thoroughgood Marshall, was one of those people, and someone worth talking about.
Marshall graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, with honors, in 1930. He applied to the University of Maryland’s Law School but was rejected because of the color of his skin. Marshall then applied to and attended Howard University’s Law School, ranking first in his class upon graduation. Marshall’s mentor and lifelong friend, Charles Hamilton Houston, challenged him to be more than a lawyer, to be a vehicle for social change.
The first resistance to social change is to say it’s not necessary.Gloria Steinem
Many felt that all was well with America and that we shouldn’t stir things up. But that wasn’t true for Blacks in America and Thurgood Marshall knew it! One of the first cases that Marshall won had to have brought him great satisfaction since he won a case against the University of Maryland. In Murray v Pearson (1935), Marshall filed a suit against the University of Maryland for denying admittance to a black student. His argument was based on the 14th amendment which guaranteed every American equal protection of the laws. This was the same law school that had once denied him entrance for the same exact reason.
As a lawyer for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Marshall’s fight for civil rights was handled in the courtroom. Some thought him too passive and was unimpressed with what they considered a tortoise’ pace toward freedoms for Black people. But Marshall felt it was imperative for laws in America to be changed so that lives could change for his people.
Steadily working through the court system for the rights of Black Americans, Marshall was primed for the Brown vs Board of Education in 1954. Arguing successfully before the Supreme Court, Marshall stated that the government-backed position, held in high esteem since Plessy vs Ferguson, to maintain a “separate but equal” status in regards to Blacks was unconstitutional. He also argued that the viewpoint of separate but equal was detrimental to the self-esteem and social well-being of Black children in our nation. When asked by Justice Felix Frankfurter what equal meant to him, Marshall replied:
“Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time, and in the same place.”Thurgood Marshall
This victory opened the doors for Blacks across America to attend schools that had been barred to them for years. The fight wasn’t over, and in Little Rock, Arkansas, Marshall was front and center fighting for the Little Rock Nine. Although Arkansas understood the law, they refused to adhere to it, so Marshall was back in court fighting for the immediate integration of the schools that were already three years behind the Supreme Court’s ruling. He won!
“The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you can alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change the world.”James Baldwin
When Dr. King came along with his non-violent protests, many felt that everyone should join the protests and leave the other means of fighting for civil rights alone. Not Marshall! As a matter of fact, he became instrumental in getting Blacks out of jail after the Montgomery Bus Boycott! And even getting Dr. King out of jail! Marshall fought for voting rights and equal pay. Oftentimes his cases placed him in a position where he received threats of bodily harm. But he kept defending those who needed someone to fight for their civil rights. He fought in the way that God had prepared and gifted him to fight!
Many believed that King and Marshall were at odds! And in some cases, they probably were at odds! But the most important thing to remember is that they both fought for the rights of Blacks, using the gifts and callings that were upon their lives. They were on the same side fighting for change in America.
The bible reminds us that all change is not easy, nor will it always come quickly:
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heartGalatians 6:9 NKJV
But the same verse tells us that we will reap in due season if we do not lose heart.
Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases that he argued before the Supreme Court. At one point, it is said that he oversaw 450 civil rights cases simultaneously! That’s hard work! Then many years later, in 1967, President Johnson nominated him to the Supreme Court. This was something that Dr. King wanted to see and was able to witness before being assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall did not see all that was in his heart, any more than Dr. King had the chance to see his dreams come to fulfillment. But he fought against injustice and equality in the legal system with all that he had within him. Marshall died in 1993, having been named the Great Dissenter because even though he was a Supreme Court Justice, he was often on a side opposite to those he served with.
“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”Thurgood Marshall
Thirty years later, we are still reciting the same mantra as Thurgood Marshall, “America can do better because America has no choice but to do better.”
Some days it seems that our fight for social change will never happen. Even as believers, we look at the work of evangelism before us, and it feels like it will never be enough! Social change must happen legally, but it must also happen spiritually for there to be long-lasting change!
We cannot afford to give up on our responsibilities as citizens of the kingdom. As we push back the kingdom of darkness to expand the Kingdom of God, it brings about social change. As we see the wrong in America, we must fight to make it right because this is our democracy! If we are doing the spiritual battle correctly, the other should fall in place. But if it doesn’t, then we have a responsibility to let our voices be heard, and to let our actions be seen!
“A child born to a Black mother in a state like Mississippi… has exactly the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States. It’s not true, but I challenge anyone to say it is not a goal worth working for.”Thurgood Marshall
Let us not grow weary in well-doing! God Himself said that we will reap if we don’t faint! Wonderful Jesus!