Thurgood Marshall earned the distinction of being the first African American justice to serve on the United States Supreme Court. The grandson of a slave, Justice Marshall had been instilled with reverence for the Constitution and the rule of law by his father from an early age. Determined to forge a career as a lawyer, Marshall applied to join the University of Maryland Law School in 1930. However, his application was turned down on account of his race. Undaunted by this setback, Marshall successfully applied to study law at Howard University. After graduating with honors, he got his first taste of involvement in the civil rights movement. He successfully sued the University of Maryland—the very same institution which had turned him down—for denying the application of an African American student by the name of Donald Gaines.
The case established Marshall's reputation as a civil rights lawyer, and he subsequently became the NAACP's Chief Counsel. In this capacity, Marshall argued and won more Supreme Court cases than any other lawyer, most notably the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, in which the Court ruled that segregated education was unconstitutional. Marshall's high profile as a civil rights lawyer caught the attention of President Kennedy, who appointed him to the US Court of Appeals. Later on, President Johnson would make Thurgood Marshall the first ever African American Solicitor-General. In this role he proved to be astonishingly successful, winning the vast majority of cases before the Supreme Court. Suitably impressed by Marshall's record of achievement, President Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1967, where he served with distinction until his retirement in 1991, two years before his death.