Baltimore upbringing fueled Marshall's outrage against racism JUSTICE MARSHALL RETIRES

June 28, 1991|By Doug Birch Rafael Alvarez, Sandy Banisky and Martin C. Evans of The Sun's metropolitan staff also contributed to this article.

The Sun incorrectly reported yesterday that former U.S. Representative Parren J. Mitchell became the first black graduate of the University of Maryland's School of Social Work, because of a court decision striking down a discriminatory admissions policy. In fact, Mr. Mitchell was the first black to attend graduate school at the University of Maryland at College Park, where he received a master's degree in sociology in 1952. The dean of the School of Social Work said yesterday that his school never had a policy of discrimination.

The brash, self-confident spirit that Thurgood Marshall brought to the Supreme Court was nurtured by the tight-knit middle-class black community that flourished in West Baltimore in his youth. And his outrage at injustice was forged by the bitter slights of segregation in his hometown and native state.

"He was a right fiery person. He says what's on his mind, didn't bite his tongue for anybody," said Edna Ryan, 83, who lives a few doors from the house in the 1600 block of Division Street in Upton where Mr. Marshall grew up and where a relative by marriage still lives.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Friends here say Justice Marshall, also 83, has retained ties to the city, although he has not lived here in more than 50 years. But the nation's highest-ranking black official has frequently recounted, in stinging language, stories about the racial divisions that fissured Baltimore while he was growing up.

His most bitter experience may have been with the University of Maryland School of Law, where he said he applied but was rejected because of his race. Instead, the Douglass High School and Lincoln University graduate commuted from Baltimore by train every day to the law school at Howard University in Washington.

A few years after graduating, Mr. Marshall brought suit against the UM law school on behalf of Donald G. Murray, a black Amherst College graduate who was denied admission because of his race, eventually winning the case in the Maryland Court of Appeals. (It was the first of seven suits that challenged and toppled discriminatory admissions policies at the university.)

Forty-five years later, University of Maryland School of Law officials asked Mr. Marshall if he would let them name a new library after him.

"At first he was very uncooperative," said Larry S. Gibson, a Baltimore lawyer who is assembling biographical material on Justice Marshall. "He sent a very harsh letter to the dean." But Clarence Mitchell Jr., the legendary NAACP lobbyist and one of Justice Marshall's closest friends, persuaded his friend to relent.

Justice Marshall still refused to attend the dedication ceremonies. "He had been extremely bitter at the University of Maryland Law School," said David Bogen, a professor at the law school. "Even Clarence Mitchell couldn't get him to set foot on the . . . school grounds."

Mr. Marshall left Baltimore for the New York office of the NAACP in 1936 and has not lived here since. But he kept in contact with his friends among Baltimore's prominent black families, many of whom also became leaders of the civil rights struggle.

And he became an inspiration to succeeding generations of black Baltimoreans.

Retired Baltimore Congressman Parren J. Mitchell recalls hearing Marshall blast segregationist policies at a city meeting in the depths of the Depression and counts that event among the reasons he entered public service.

Mr. Marshall later served on the legal team that struck down the admissions policy at the University of Maryland's graduate school of social work that permitted Mr. Mitchell to become that school's first black graduate.

"I remember when I worked for the first set-aside bill for minority business in Congress, he was gracious enough to call me and say, 'Parren, it's a wonderful thing you're doing,' " Mr. Mitchell said.

"He opened a lot of doors," Mr. Gibson said. "Look at me. I'm on the faculty of the University of Maryland law school. There are generations of blacks in various professions who owe a lot to his work. . . . All Baltimoreans black and white should be proud of him."

In describing him, friends repeatedly pointed to the strength of Justice Marshall's roots. Retired District Court Judge William Murphy Sr. grew up about a block away from Mr. Marshall, and one of Judge Murphy's older brothers roomed with Mr. Marshall at Lincoln University.

"He came up from a very well-known black family," said Judge Murphy. "The family were business people. Thurgood's grandfather owned a very successful green-grocery store on Dolphin Street. They were very successful business people. Very entrepreneurial."

Clarence Mitchell III recalled how Justice Marshall sat at his parents' dining room table smoking cigars and drinking liquor as the NAACP's legal team -- which included Mr. Mitchell's mother, Juanita Jackson Mitchell -- hashed out the strategy for the landmark school desegregation case, Brown vs. Board of Education, in the early 1950s.

"My mother has chairs in her dining room today that were signed by the different lawyers who were part of that strategy," including the justice, he said.

Mr. Mitchell recalled the young Mr. Marshall as "gruff and rough." But friends also saw a mischievous, generous spirit.

"He's warm, charming, affable, friendly -- he's a great guy," Judge Murphy said. "My brother used to mention that when he and Thurgood were roommates at Lincoln that Thurgood could raise hell all day and all night the night before exams, and still make an "A" in all of them."

But in interviews about growing up in Baltimore, Justice Marshall always recounted grim tales of racial bias.

He told The Sun in 1977 that the superintendent of schools who served while he was a student in the 1920s "didn't like Negroes. He didn't like Jews. He didn't like married women, and he especially didn't like married women with children. Now you tell me, who did he like?"

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