Thurgood Marshall Quotes - Biography

The Philosophy of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (QUOTES)

Fifty years ago this week, Thurgood Marshall was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the first African-American justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Civil Rights Activists: Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, played a vital part in ending legal segregation during the Civil Rights Movement through the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education. (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)

On August 30, 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Grandson of a slave, Marshall lived through some of the most trying times of race relations in America's history, which undoubtedly shaped his legal philosophy. Known for his earlier work in helping end legal segregation through the 1954 landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, he once described his judicial approach by simply saying, "You do what you think is right and let the law catch up."

Although Marshall contributed to many areas of the law, including income tax and unions, he is markedly known for his liberal contributions to the areas of civil rights and criminal procedure.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of his U.S. Supreme Court confirmation, here are some of his most powerful quotes.

"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."

"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."

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

"In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute."

"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."

"The Ku Klux Klan never dies. They just stop wearing sheets because sheets cost too much."

"What is the quality of your intent? Certain people have a way of saying things that shake us at the core. Even when the words do not seem harsh or offensive, the impact is shattering. What we could be experiencing is the intent behind the words. When we intend to do good, we do. When we intend to do harm, it happens. What each of us must come to realize is that our intent always comes through."

"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."

"The measure of a country's greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis."