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Book preview: Another Thurgood Marshall biography coming this winter

In a 1966 interview with The Baltimore Sun, Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) said he left Baltimore in the 1930s and was “glad to be rid of it forever.”  Thirty-nine years after that interview, Maryland state lawmakers renamed the Baltimore-Washington International airport after Marshall. Former Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer thought the naming inappropriate given Marshall’s dig at Baltimore. Thurgood Marshall, Jr., however, saw it otherwise: “For someone who applied life lessons as he did, it would be impossible simply to walk away from a life and a community where the seeds of his future success had been so carefully planted by his family.”  As it turned out, the name stuck, and one of the men who helped make it so was a University of Maryland law professor named Larry Gibson. He’s now about to release a book on the famed civil rights lawyer and jurist from Baltimore.

Before becoming a law professor, Mr. Gibson served in the Justice Department as Associate Deputy Attorney General and as Director of the National Economic Crimes Project during President Jimmy Carter’s administration.  Over the years, Gibson has researched and designed several exhibits, articles, newspaper series, and other presentations on the history of civil rights and African-American lawyers in Maryland. To that list he now adds his own judicial biography of the man who successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education. Notably, Marshall’s first appearance at the Court came in 1933, when he successfully sued the University of Maryland over the admission of another black graduate.

As a law professor, Gibson teaches evidence, race and the law, and election law.  Earlier this year, he taught a seminar on Marshall. The seminar focused on state and federal racial justice lawsuits brought by Marshall in the period between 1936 and 1944.

This winter, Prometheus Books will publish Professor Gibson’s 390-page biography of Thurgood Marshall.  It is entitled Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice ($28.00).  When it comes out, the Gibson biography will be the latest in an already long line of books (fifteen!) that are either entirely or largely about Marshall, including:

  • Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (2012)
  • Kenneth W. Mack, Representing the Race: The Creation of a Civil Rights Lawyer (2012)
  • Glen Starks & Erik Brooks, Thurgood Marshall: A Biography (2012)
  • Michael Long, Marshalling Justice: The Early Civil Rights Letters of Thurgood Marshall (2011)
  • Rawn James Jr., Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation (2010)
  • Clay Smith Jr., Supreme Justice: Speeches and Writings (2002)
  • Howard Ball, A Defiant Life: Thurgood Marshall and the Persistence of Racism in America (2001)
  • Mark Tushnet, Thurgood Marshall: His Speeches, Writings, Arguments, Opinions, and Reminiscences (2001)
  • Juan Williams, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary (2000)
  • Mark Tushnet, Making Constitutional Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1961-1991 (1997)
  • Mark Tushnet, Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1956-1961 (1996)
  • Michael D. Davis & Hunter R. Clark, Thurgood Marshall: Warrior at the Bar, Rebel on the Bench (1994)
  • Carl T. Rowan, Dream Makers, Dream Breakers (1993)
  • Seamus Cavan, Thurgood Marshall and Equal Rights (1993), and
  • Joe Nazel, Thurgood Marshall: Supreme Court Justice (1993)

And later this year Carolina Academic Press will publish I Dissent! The Dissenting Opinions of Justice Thurgood Marshall by Wendy B. Scott and Linda S. Green.

It is against that mountain of Marshall books that Professor Gibson offers up his own take on the formative years of the famous lawyer, Second Circuit judge, Solicitor General, and finally Supreme Court Justice.  As noted in the preface to the forthcoming biography, the author first “met Justice Marshall in July 1975, when I came to his home after 11 p.m. to get an emergency order signed.  He spent more than two hours entertaining my co-counsel and I with stories about his Baltimore years.”

Man of contrasts

In many ways, Gibson’s Young Thurgood is a book about a man of contrasts.  In Professor Gibson’s eyes, Thurgood Marshall “fought for racial justice without becoming a racist.” He was “simultaneously idealistic and pragmatic.” And “Marshall was a passionate advocate, yet he maintained friendly relationships with his opponents.”  The forthcoming biography, we are also told in advance promotional materials, “presents fresh information about Marshall’s family, youth, and education.” Gibson describes “Marshall’s key mentors, the special impact of his high school and college competitive debating, his struggles to establish a law practice during the Great Depression, and his first civil rights cases.”

“The author,” it is said, “sheds new light on the NAACP and its first lawsuits in the campaign that led to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision.” Professor Gibson also “corrects some of the often-repeated stories about Marshall that are inaccurate.”

The jacket of the forthcoming biography is graced with a 1927 photo of a handsome Thurgood Marshall standing in front of his dormitory at Lincoln University.

Foreword by Thurgood Marshall, Jr.

Young Thurgood is the first biography of Thurgood Marshall to be endorsed by the Justice’s immediate family.  It has a foreword by Thurgood Marshall, Jr. “Professor Gibson’s attention to detail and thorough research,” says Marshall’s son,  “is apparent throughout.  His sleuthing has led him to courthouses and clerk’s office records as well as professional and personal correspondence in countless locales.” He adds that, “through meticulous research and numerous interviews with relatives, classmates and friends, Professor Gibson has stitched together personal anecdotes and impressions that bring to life a steady stream of events.”

As for Marshall and Baltimore, the foreword notes: “Professor Gibson sets the stage with a gritty sense of the tone of the times when my father was born in Baltimore, which was once a segregated city not far from communities that often tilted toward vigilante justice instead of the rule of law.”

Until the Gibson biography arrives, the next time you find yourself at the Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore, take a moment and check out the exhibit there.  It’s quite something!

Ronald Collins is the Harold S. Shefelman scholar at the University of Washington School of Law.  His next book, Nuanced Absolutism: Floyd Abrams and the First Amendment, comes out this January 


Recommended Citation: Ron Collins, Book preview: Another Thurgood Marshall biography coming this winter, SCOTUSblog (Aug. 24, 2012, 11:27 AM),