Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. He served on the from 1967 until 1991. Marshall is best known for his victory in Brown v. Board of Education, which resulted in the desegregated public schools throughout the United States.
In 1992, he delivered an acceptance speech for the Liberty Medal recognizing his long history of protecting individual rights under the Constitution. Below, you will find excerpts that I feel should be shared with folks in light of the current protests in Baltimore, Maryland.
“Racism separates, but it never liberates. Hatred generates fear, and fear once given a foothold; binds, consumes and imprisons. Nothing is gained from prejudice. No one benefits from racism.” – Thurgood Marshall
I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. I wish I could say that this Nation had traveled far along the road to social justice and that liberty and equality were just around the bend. I wish I could say that America has come to appreciate diversity and to see and accept similarity. But as I look around, I see not a Nation of unity but of division – Afro and White, indigenous and immigrant, rich and poor, educated and illiterate. Even many educated whites and successful Negroes have given up on integration and lost hope on equality. They see nothing in common except the need to flee as fast they can from our inner cities.
Democracy just cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. America must get to work. In the chill climate in which we live, we must go against the prevailing wind. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that has buried its head in the sand, waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.
Call to Action:
The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls. But it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me. Afro and White, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, our fates are bound together. We can run from each other but we cannot escape each other. We will only attain freedom if we learn to appreciate what is different and muster the courage to discover what is fundamentally the same. America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity. Take a chance, won’t you? Knock down the fences that divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison. Reach out, freedom lies just on the other side. We should have liberty for all.
To read the acceptance speech in its entirety, visit the National Constitution Center website. What do you think of Marshall’s speech? Has much changed since 1992 when he delivered the speech? What would he say today, in 2015?