MCM: Thurgood Marshall


He was the first African American judge on the U.S. Supreme Court, and before that, he had an incredible career as a civil rights lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993) made an undeniable impact on American history, and he’s occasionally shown up in historical movies and TV shows because of it. Perhaps his most famous case was as a lawyer representing the plaintiff in the landmark 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education. This ended the ‘separate but equal’ racial segregation in schools. Marshall also won cases involving unequal salaries for African Americans, he successfully challenged a whites-only primary election, and he won a case striking down segregation on inter-state buses. Overall, he won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.

1935-40 - Thurgood Marshall via Library of Congress

1935-40 – Thurgood Marshall via Library of Congress

1967 - Thurgood Marshall

1967 – Thurgood Marshall

When he became a justice himself in 1967, he was frequently part of the liberal majority with the Warren Court, and Thurgood Marshall wrote 322 majority opinions during his time on the court. He retired in 1991 due to poor health and passed soon after. Let’s take a look at he’s been depicted in TV and film.



Sidney Poitier in Separate but Equal (1991)

Sidney Poitier, Separate but Equal (1991)

This TV movie focuses on Briggs v. Elliott in 1952, which was one of the cases Marshall argued that was combined into the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Sidney Poitier, Separate but Equal (1991)

Sidney Poitier makes a striking & effective Marshall.

Sidney Poitier, Separate but Equal (1991)



Peter Francis James in “Simple Justice,” American Experience (1993)

Peter Francis James, Simple Justice (1993)

This TV movie starts with Thurgood Marshall as a law student at Howard University & looks at how his mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, trained a generation of African American lawyers to fight for civil rights.



Brian Stokes Mitchell in The Ernest Green Story (1993)

Brian Stokes Mitchell, The Ernest Green Story (1993)

Ernest Green was one of the “Little Rock Nine,” nine African American students registered to attend Little Rock Central High School in 1957, after Brown v. Board of Education was decided. Thurgood Marshall shows up when these students face horrible abuse.



Roger R. Cross in The Color of Courage (1998)

Roger R. Cross, The Color of Courage (1998)

This TV movie shows the background story of Sipes vs. McGhee in 1947, where a Black family moved into a neighborhood with a racial covenant. At the very end of the movie, Thurgood Marshall eloquently argues the case.



Joe Morton in Mutiny (1999)

Joe Morton, Mutiny (1999)

In 1944, Black sailors were court-martialed for refusing to work in dangerous conditions. Thurgood Marshall appealed the case in this TV movie.



Laurence Fishburne in Thurgood (2011)

Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood (2011)

The always excellent Fishburne portrays Thurgood Marshall in this TV movie of the Broadway play about Marshall’s life.

Laurence Fishburne in Thurgood (2011)



Danny Glover in Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight (2013)

Danny Glover, Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (2013)

When Muhammad Ali requested exemption from the military draft based on his religious beliefs in 1964, Thurgood Marshall was a Supreme Court Justice, but recused himself from the deliberations.



Chadwick Boseman in Marshall (2017)

Thurgood Marshall 2017 movie

This biopic focuses on one of Marshall’s early cases, the State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell.

Thurgood Marshall 2017 movie

Starring the late, great Chadwick Boseman.

Thurgood Marshall 2017 movie



What onscreen Thurgood Marshall are you familiar with?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

7 Responses

  1. M.E. Lawrence

    Would like to see Fishburne’s Marshall. And Marshall recused himself from deliberations on a case?! Remember when Supremes knew how to do that?

  2. Joni

    I’ll have to check out ‘Mutiny’! I am very familiar with that disaster but had somehow missed that there was a movie made of it.

  3. Lily Lotus Rose

    I was most familiar with Chadwick Boseman as Marshall. I’d forgotten about Laurence Fishburne’s and Sidney Poitier’s versions. Never new about Brian Stokes Mitchell playing him. Great MCM choice!

  4. Bev

    I didn’t know there were so many Thurgood Marshall movies!

    I saw the one with Chadwick Boseman, and thought he did an excellent job. What bothered me was that it felt like Thurgood was sidelined and muted in favor of focusing on Josh Gad’s character.


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