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Timeless Thurgood Marshall Quotes On Law, Race, and More

Thurgood Marshall made history as the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court.

Take a peek into his thoughts on law, American society, and race through the Thurgood Marshall quotes below. 

Have you ever wanted to become a judge? 

Before becoming a Supreme Court judge, Thurgood Marshall was an executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

During his time with the NAACP, his skill as a lawyer shaped many prominent court cases that have changed American law.

They include Brown vs.

Board of Education, concerning racial segregation in public schools, and Smith vs.

Allwright, surrounding racial discrimination and voting rights. 

Throughout his career in law, Marshall helped America make strides towards becoming a more equal society. 

Want to learn more about African-American Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall?

Take a look at the collection of quotes below!

Don’t forget to also read these Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes on standing for justice.

Thurgood Marshall quotes about law and being a judge

1. “Mere access to the courthouse doors does not by itself assure a proper functioning of the adversary process.” – Thurgood Marshall

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

3. “I have a lifetime appointment and I intend to serve it. I expect to die at 110, shot by a jealous husband.” – Thurgood Marshall

4. “The death penalty is no more effective a deterrent than life imprisonment… It is also evident that the burden of capital punishment falls upon the poor, the ignorant and the underprivileged members of society.” – Thurgood Marshall

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.” – Thurgood Marshall

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6. “Deciding not to decide is, of course, among the most important things done by the Supreme Court. It takes a lot of doing, but it can be done.” – Thurgood Marshall

7. “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.” – Thurgood Marshall

8. “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” – Thurgood Marshall

9. “Lawlessness is lawlessness. Anarchy is anarchy is anarchy. Neither race nor color nor frustration is an excuse for either lawlessness or anarchy.” – Thurgood Marshall

10. “I’m the world’s original gradualist. I just think ninety-odd years is gradual enough.” – Thurgood Marshall

11. “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.” – Thurgood Marshall

Powerful Thurgood Marshall quotes 

12. “Sometimes history takes things into its own hands.” – Thurgood Marshall

13. “What is the quality of your intent?” – Thurgood Marshall

14. “Each of you, as an individual, must pick your own goals. Listen to others, but do not become a blind follower.” – Thurgood Marshall

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

16. “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” – Thurgood Marshall

17. “Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time and in the same place.” – Thurgood Marshall

18. “History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.” – Thurgood Marshall

19. “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.” ― Thurgood Marshall

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

21. “Truth is more than a mental exercise.” – Thurgood Marshall

22. “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.” – Thurgood Marshall

23. “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.” – Thurgood Marshall

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Also check out these John Lewis quotes that will inspire you to continue his work

Thurgood Marshall quotes about American society 

24. “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.” – Thurgood Marshall

25. “It is important that the strongest pressures against the continuation of segregation, North or South, be continually and constantly manifested. Probably, as much as anything else, this is the key in the elimination of discrimination in the United States.” – Thurgood Marshall

Are you a good listener?

Although Thurgood Marshall maintained one of the most important positions within American law, he didn’t lose sight of the plights of the everyday American.

As mentioned in a previous quote, he talked to the “shoe-shine boys” and the “barbers” to get an authentic view of everyday life in America. 

If you are in a position of power, don’t forget to reach out to the many people that you’re representing.

Whether you’re in a managerial position at work or the president of a club at school, being a great listener is an important part of being a great leader. 

Which of these Thurgood Marshall quotes and sayings is your favorite?

Are there any other prominent figures we should feature on Everyday Power?

Let us know below!

Nia Simone McLeod
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1 Comment
  1. DAVISON MWALE

    October 17, 2020 at 7:33 AM

    THURGOOD MARTIAL IS ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS I CHOSE TO PURSUE LAW. ITS IS TRUE THAT LAW IS USED TO SUPPRESS THE LOWER CLASS HOWEVER IT IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE THAT THE SAME TOOL CAN BE USED TO BRING EQUITY. LAW IS A TOOL TO BRING ORDER AND EQUITY, SOME PROVISIONS ARE DISCRIMINATATIVE BUT THE SAME CAN BE USED TO BRING ABOUT AN EQUILIBRIUM. ALL BECAUSE OF MARTIAL, I AM CERTAINLY GOING TO BE ONE EXCEPTIONAL LAWYER FIGHTING FOR EQUAL RIGHTS AND BRINGING THE OFFENDERS TO BOOK.

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