Our Archives department preserves LDF’s legacy and provides research assistance to TMI and LDF staff. TMI’s Archives staff manages an archival repository of LDF’s historic records, provides library services, and oversees information management.
Thurgood Marshall founded LDF in 1940 and served as its first director-counsel. He was the architect of the legal strategy that ended racial segregation in the United States of America. After a stint as a federal appeals judge in Manhattan and later as the first black solicitor general of the United States, Marshall became the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. After nomination by President Lyndon B. Johnson and confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Marshall served as Associate Justice from 1967-1991. He retired from the bench in 1991 and passed away on January 24, 1993 in Washington, D.C. at the age of 84. Thurgood Marshall’s visionary legal work at the Legal Defense Fund was an unrivaled contribution to the Civil Rights Movement and helped change the arc of American history forever.
As a Supreme Court justice, he became increasingly dismayed and disappointed as the court’s majority retreated from remedies he felt were necessary to address remnants of Jim Crow. In his dissent in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, a landmark affirmative action ruling, he wrote: "In light of the sorry history of discrimination and its devastating impact on the lives of Negroes, bringing the Negro into the mainstream of American life should be a state interest of the highest order. To fail to do so is to ensure that America will forever remain a divided society."
In particular, Marshall fervently dissented in cases in which the Supreme Court upheld death sentences; he wrote over 150 opinions dissenting from cases in which the Court refused to hear death penalty appeals. Among Marshall’s salient majority opinions for the Supreme Court were: Amalgamated Food Employees Union v. Logan Valley Plaza, in 1968, which determined that a mall was “public forum” and thus was barred from excluding picketers; and Bounds v. Smith, which held that state prison systems must provide their inmates with “adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.”
Marshall’s status as an architect of the Civil Rights Movement and an icon of American history is unquestioned. His legacy lives on at LDF, at the Thurgood Marshall Institute, and in the advocates, activists, and allies who seek to continue his work.