In his debut, Gibson (Univ. of Maryland School of Law) looks at the early years of the legendary Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993).
Marshall, a brilliant legal mind, became the first black Supreme Court justice in 1967, and before that, he was the chief counsel for the plaintiffs in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, in which school segregation was declared unconstitutional. But while Marshall’s law career has been amply covered by other biographers, his earlier life has gotten relatively short shrift. This biography, by contrast, focuses solely on the first 30 years of Marshall’s life. Growing up, Marshall intensely discussed politics and race relations with his father. “He never told me to be a lawyer, but he turned me into one,” Marshall later said. Indeed, Gibson writes that Marshall inherited his family members’ assertive and deeply hardworking natures. Marshall experienced segregation firsthand, attending an all-black high school; he refined his brilliant debating style on the debate team there and, later, at historically black Lincoln University. Gibson also covers Marshall’s time at Howard University Law School and his first cases as a Baltimore lawyer, which led to his work with the NAACP and civil rights law. The author, who met Marshall a few times in the 1970s and ’80s, writes in his introduction of how he wished to correct the record regarding some details of Marshall’s early life—noting, for example, that while some sources have claimed that Marshall was a mediocre student before law school, Gibson’s research found that Marshall had in fact graduated high school with honors at the age of 16. But this biography also deftly evokes the atmosphere in which Marshall developed his talents and effectively sketches the many people and events that influenced him.
A well-researched and engaging biography and a fine addition to Marshall scholarship.