HBO‘s Thurgood is a one-man show filmed before a live audience at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Laurence Fishburne plays Thurgood Marshall, who presumably returns to Howard University School of Law to share his life story with the student body. We learn Thurgood Marshall was born in 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland, and named Thoroughgood. By second grade, he got tired of his long name, so he shortened it. The races were using separate public toilets, benches, and water fountains and were assigned separate train cars. He was admonished to sit separately in a movie theater. Initially, he wanted to be a dentist, but changed his mind and applied to law school. The University of Maryland Law School (his top choice) was 10 minutes from his home, but wouldn’t consider an African American. So he attended Howard instead.
Marshall became a civil rights lawyer. He represented his mother, an elementary school teacher who was paid 40 percent less than white teachers. He invoked the 14th amendment, and the Court found in her favor, finding unequal pay for public school teachers was unconstitutional. He joined the legal department at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the NAACP) in New York, where he continued to work on discrimination cases. In the case of Smith v. Allwright, he ably argued before the Supreme Court that it was unconstitutional for the Texas Democratic Party to prevent Blacks from voting in their primaries. He argued, twice, before the Supreme Court in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education. The issue was, does segregation in public schools solely on the basis of race, even if the facilities are equal, deprive children of equal educational opportunities? The Court unanimously found that it did.
President Kennedy appointed Thurgood Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals, and President Johnson chose him to be the first African American United States Solicitor General. When a vacancy opened on the Supreme Court, he became the first African American appointed to the Court. Associate Justice Hugo Black, a “good friend,” and reportedly a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, swore him in.
The play ends with Justice Marshall expounding upon his views on hot button issues. He didn’t believe in censorship. He felt individuals should read books or watch movies to their liking. He was against the death penalty, particularly because he was aware poor, innocent individuals were wrongly convicted (and then executed). He was for gun control, since he saw no reason for private citizens to carry firearms.
I highly recommend renting Thurgood. The filmed play is captivating, and often funny, even though the subject matter is at times somber.