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10 Thought-Provoking Thurgood Marshall Quotes

Thurgood Marshall was a lawyer, judge, and civil rights activist with the National Association for the Advancement Colored People (NAACP) and the first Black American to serve on the Supreme Court. Marshall is often most remembered for being the attorney who had one of the highest success rates before the Supreme Court. Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases he put in front of before the high court. Marshall grew up in Baltimore, graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in the city in 1925 and from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1930. Douglass would go on to graduate from Howard law school and practiced law before becoming a judge. Here are ten quotes by Thurgood Marshall.

1. “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.”
2. “Ending racial discrimination in jury selection can be accomplished only by eliminating peremptory challenges entirely.”

3. “Surely the fact that a uniformed police officer is wearing his hair below his collar will make him no less identifiable as a policeman.”

4 “If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.”
5. “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

6. “We deal here with the right of all of our children, whatever their race, to an equal start in life and to an equal opportunity to reach their full potential as citizens. Those children who have been denied that right in the past deserve better than to see fences thrown up to deny them that right in the future.”

7. “The legal system can force open doors, and sometimes-even knock down walls, but it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me. The country can’t do it. Afro and White, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, our fates are bound together. We can run from each other, but we cannot escape each other.” 

8. “When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality; his mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not cease to feed on a free and open interchange of opinions; his yearning for self-respect does not end; nor is his quest for self-realization concluded.”

9. “A man can make what he wants of himself if he truly believes that he must be ready for hard work and many heartbreaks.”

10. “We will only attain freedom if we learn to appreciate what is different and muster the courage to discover what is fundamentally the same. America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity. Take a chance, won’t you? Knockdown the fences, which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side. We shall have liberty for all.”


Reed, W. (2007, January 21) Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993). Retrieved from

Mary L. Dudziak, Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall’s African Journey ( New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Carl T. Rowan, Dream Makers, Dream Breakers: The World of Thurgood Marshall ( New York: Welcome Rain Publishers, 2002); Mark Tushnet, Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1956-1961 ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Mark Tushnet, Making Constitutional Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1961-1991 ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Juan Williams, American Revolutionary (Broadway, VA: Broadway Publishers: 2000).

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