In October 1967, Thurgood Marshall made history by becoming the first African-American to be confirmed as a justice of the Supreme Court. Before he was named to the high court, Marshall was a civil-rights lawyer who successfully convinced the Supreme Court that segregation in schools was unconstitutional in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education.
Throughout his 24 year career on the bench, Marshall was known as a defender of individual rights, especially for those accused of committing crimes. Over the years, his liberal positions were at odds with a growing conservative majority of the court, but that did not stop him from issuing strongly-worded dissents and taking a stand on social issues.
Here are some of his best quotes, which are still relevant today:
- Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds.
- A man can make what he wants of himself if he truly believes that he must be ready for hard work and many heartbreaks.
- The measure of a country's greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.
- The process of democracy is one of change. Our laws are not frozen into immutable form, they are constantly in the process of revision in response to the needs of a changing society.
- Classifications and distinctions based on race or color have no moral or legal validity in our society. They are contrary to our constitution and laws.
- 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 from a nation that has buried its head in the sand, waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.
- To protest against injustice is the foundation of all our American democracy.
- 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.