History Timeline 1960's

Photo above: Astronaut John Glenn pictured above with President John F. Kennedy looking inside the Mercury Space Capsule in 1962. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Soyuz TMA-7 Spacecraft. Courtesy NASA.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1960s

Civil Rights and Turmoil

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  • Timeline

  • 1967 - Detail

    October 2, 1967 - Thurgood Marshall is sworn into office as the first black Supreme Court Justice.

    Thurgood Marshall

    It had been a long hard road in the criminal justice system for it to, in any way, reflect the composition of race in American society. Since President George Washington announced his first six justices in 1789 after the passage of the Federal Judiciary Act, there had been only men, only white men, to sit on the highest court in the land. On October 2, 1967, that would make its first change. Thurgood Marshall, the distinguished lawyer who had argued successfully in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, was sworn into office as an associate justice.

    How did Marshall ascend to this position and what finally prompted the change? Marshall had graduated from Lincoln University in 1930, then followed up his undergraduate studies with a law school degree from Howard University in 1933, graduating first in his class. Thurgood Marshall quickly became involved with the cause of civil rights, arguing the case of Murray v. Pearson, a law school disriminiation case for the NAACP in 1934, which he won. Two years later, Marshall became a member of the staff for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

    Over the next twenty years, Marshall argued cases for the advancement of civil rights, including thirty-two in front of the Supreme Court. He won twenty-nine of them. By the time President John F. Kennedy announced that Thurgood Marshall would be nominated to a new position per 1961 on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Marshall was one of the most successful litigators in the United States. He would serve in that capacity from October 5, 1961 to August 23, 1965.

    When President Lyndon B. Johnson needed a replacement for the office of United States Solicitor General, Marshall was nominated as the first African American to hold that office. Johnson already knew, in 1965, that his ultimate goal for Marshall was a nomination to the Supreme Court. He would serve the President in the capacity of Solicitor General from August 23, 1965 to August 30, 1967, winning fourteen of the nineteen cases he argued in that role. When Associate Justice Tom C. Clark retired from the Supreme Court in 1967, it was an obvious selection for President Johnson to nomimate Thurgood Marshall to that position.

    President Johnson's Telephone Conversation with Thurgood Marshall on July 7, 1965, per nomination as Solicitor General

    Judge, how are you? (Fine, sir) I have a rather big problem that ah I wanted to talk to you about. (Right) I want you to give it some real thought because it's a something that I have thought about for weeks and I think we can't think about how it affects us personally, we've got to think about the world (Right) and our country and our government and then ourselves way down at the bottom of the list. I want you to be my Solicitor General. (Wow) You lose alot. You lose security. You lose the freedom that you like. You lose the philosophizing that you can do. I'm familiar with all those things. (The number one is the security, etc. some inaudible) Well, you won't lose any.

    And I want you to do it for two or three reasons. One, I want the top lawyer in the United States representing me before the Supreme Court (inaudible) to be a Negro. And be a damn good lawyer that done it before. You have those peculiar qualifications. And number two, I think it will do alot for our image abroad and at home, too, that this is the man that the whole government has to look to, to decide whether it prosecutes a case or whether it goes up with a case or whether it doesn't, and so on and so forth. Number three, I want you to have the experience and be in the picture, I'm not discussing anything else and I don't want to make any other commitments, and I don't want to imply or bribe or mislead you. But I want you to have the training and experience of being there day after day for the next few weeks anyway or maybe for the next few months if you could do it. Now I've talked to Ramsey Clark, whose father is on the Supreme Court, and both of them have a high regard for you. I've talked to the Attorney General, Nick Katzenbach, and I've talked to you, and I haven't talked to anybody else. I don't want to talk to anybody else. Nobody will ever know I talked to you. If you decide that you can do it. Ah, I think you ought to do it, for for for for the people of the world. I just think it will be a, ah, you've got a great job, you've got lots of security, but I don't think you'll lose any from this and after you do it awhile, if there's not something better, which I would hope there would be, that you would be more amenable to, there'll be security for you, because I'm gonna be here for quite awhile, and, I want to do this job that Lincoln started, and I want to do it in the right way. (Well, could I have a day or so) Yes, you can have all the time you want.

    You think it over, and you evaluate it, and ah, ah this is a non political job, ah it just determines what goes for that court, then you present it, at least all you want to, and then have other people, Archie Cox will be going back to Harvard, he can stay, I could ask him to stay, but I want this man, to, ah, ah ah, I think you can see what I'm looking at, and I want to be the first president that really goes all the way. (I think that's wonderful??, inaudible) But I don't want anybody to be able to clip me from behind. I want to do it on merit. (Right) I want to do it without regard to politics. I want to do it without any regard to votes, cause I never, I don't want any votes, I'm not looking for votes, I've had the votes. I had all the votes when I needed them, I had fifteen million, and all I want to do is serve my term, and do it well, but I, I, I also want to do something else, I wanta leave my mark, and I want to see that justice is done, and you can be a symbol there, that you can never be where you are, (the, the answer's yes). Well, its gotta be. Its gotta be. (I appreciate it. I really do.)

    In a day or two, you can come down. You just get on a plane and come down here, and let my people know, just call Jack Valenti (sic) here at the White House, and we'll ah, we'll ah make the appropriate arrangements, (all right, sir, I could ah, the only time I'm stuck on schedule wise, Friday, but I understand, either one of those, because of you ... on Monday) Well, I expect to be better, be better Monday or Tuesday, I'm gonna be home on Friday. I'm goin home Friday afternoon. I'll be here this, this Wednesday, I'll be here Thursday, and Friday, but I'll leave after lunch, then I'll be there until probably Monday afternoon, then I'll be back here Tuesday. What about Tuesday? (Tuesday would be fine.) We'll just, ... you just forget this, ah, ah, let me, let me talk to you about it detail. And we'll work it out, and ah, ah, ah, you don't know, ... I've thought about it for weeks. And I, I, I (I'm so appreciative ...) Well, you can, because you live such a life and they've gone over you with a fine tooth comb, and they can never, ah, they can never ah use anything about you to thwart us and we're on our way now (wonderful). And, we, we gonna move. (Right, well Tuesday will be fine if fine with you). That'll be fine. You have any idea what time you'd like to meet (bout any time sir), how bout eleven in the morning (eleven o'clock would be fine). Thank you. Bye. (Right)"

    Note: (Quotes are the responses of Thurgood Marshall, and may include an innacurate translation in some instances due to the sometimes light and inaudible portions of the recordings). Transcribed from the recording at the LBJ Library.

    President Johnson Press Statement, June 1967

    Good morning, ladies and gentlemen:

    I have just talked to the Chief Justice and informed him that I shall send to the Senate this afternoon the nomination of Mr. Thurgood Marshall, Solicitor General, to the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court made vacant by the resignation of Justice Tom C. Clark of Texas.

    As most of you know, Mr. Marshall is presently serving as Solicitor General. He has served on the second highest court in the land, the Court of Appeals for the State of New York from which place he resigned, at my request, to come here as Solicitor General.

    He has argued 19 cases in the Supreme Court since becoming Solicitor General. Prior to that time, he had argued some 33 cases. The statisticians tell me that probably only one or two other living men have argued as many cases before the Court-and perhaps less than half a dozen in all the history of the Nation.

    The Solicitor has had some So-odd (likely typo, but actual word unknown) cases.

    He has lost only eight of those cases.

    His background will be given you by George Christian.

    Mr. Marshall was first in his class at Howard. He has had a distinguished record as private counsel and as Government counsel in the courts of the land. I believe he has already earned his place in history, but I think it will be greatly enhanced by his service on the Court.

    I believe he earned that appointment; he deserves the appointment. He is best qualified by training and by very valuable service to the country. I believe it is the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.

    I trust that his nomination will be promptly considered by the Senate.

    Thank you very much.

    Confirmation Process

    Because of his two previous Senate confirmation hearings for Federal Judge and Solicitor General, the process to confirm Thurgood Marshall as an Associate Justice replacing Thomas Clark went better than one would expect. Clark had retired after his son, Ramsey Clark, was appointed Attorney General. Yes, there were Southern Democrats who opposed, based on his liberal track record and judicial activism. Five Senators on the Judicial Committee did not recommend his nomination. However, on August 30, 1967, after only six hours of debate on the floor of the Senate, Marshall was confirmed 69 yes votes to 11 no. Republicans voted 32 to 1 for approval; Democrats 37 to 10. Twenty Senators voted present or abstained, 17 Democrats and 3 Republicans.

    Justice Thurgood Marshall became the 96th Supreme Court Justice, serving from August 30, 1967 to October 1, 1991.

    Photo above: Thurgood Marshall, 1957, Thomas J. O'Halloran. Courtesy Library of Congress. Photo below: Thurgood Marshall taking oath of office for Solicitor General, 1965, Marion S. Trikosko, U.S. News and World Report. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: notevenpast.org; "The Presidency Project," US Santa Barbara; Presidential Recordings, Digitial Edition, Miller Center, University of Virginia; LBJ Library; constitutioncenter.org; govtrack.us; Congressional Record; Wikipedia Commons.

    Thurgood Marshall and President Lyndon B. Johnson

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