If you’ve been distressed by all the debate over whether or not to confirm Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, consider watching Marshall this weekend. Marshall is the inspiring true story of Thurgood Marshall, 96th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and our first African-American justice. He served in the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, from 1967-1991, retiring during the administration of George H.W. Bush and succeeded by Clarance Thomas. Marshall was a champion for the oppressed, a crusader for the cause of equality, and a brilliant lawyer. Over the course of his career, he argued 32 times before Supreme Court and won 29 times! The film keys in on Thurgood’s courageous and career-defining case defending Joseph Spell, who was accused of raping his socialite employer, Eleanor Strubing in The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. From research, I gather that the movie is quite accurate except in two points: Sam Friedman had already been practicing for fourteen years, had a “stellar reputation as a trial lawyer,” and was a brave man.* Also, Roger Friedman (movie critic and nephew to Sam Friedman) stated, “It is unimaginable that Marshall, a man who was highly intelligent and educated, would have ever addressed Sam that way [using F***].” Friedman also reported that “his family cringed when they heard it at a private screening.”* Indeed, my only problem with the movie was the bad language, which apparently was unfairly included! Come on, Hollywood! Let’s elevate, not degrade. I’m not sure how you feel about the impassioned testimony of Christine Blasey Ford (and as a woman, I tend to believe women), but after watching Marshall, it does occur to me that emotion doesn’t necessarily translate into truth. Also, just for the record, I’d like to point out that although Marshall Thurmond is one of my heroes, here are a few bits from his youth, mostly gleaned from Wikipedia:
“Marshall showed a talent for law from an early age, becoming a key member of his school’s debate team and memorizing the U.S. Constitution (which was actually assigned to him as punishment for misbehaving in class).” While in college at Lincoln University: “Initially he did not take his studies seriously, and was suspended twice for hazing and pranks against fellow students.”
Among his classmates was the poet Langston Hughes, who was a lifelong friend but described Marshall as “rough and ready, loud and wrong.” “His marriage to Vivien Buster Burey in September 1929 encouraged him to take his studies seriously, and he graduated from Lincoln with honors (cum laude) Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, with a major in American literature and philosophy.” In 1933 he graduated first in his class from Howard University School of Law.
I’m thinking that we’ll never truly know whether or not Brett Kavanaugh is innocent of his alleged sins against women as a college student, but I will say that it appears he settled down after marrying and has had a pretty impeccable record since graduating from college (as was also true of Thurmond Marshall).
With just minutes to go before the vote is taken, I would like to encourage us with words originally spoken three thousand years ago by one of the world’s most beloved kings, King David of Israel. I think they’re words most of us can echo:
“Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord” (Psalm 25:7).
(Just FYI: One of Marshall’s great grandparents was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but brought to America as a slave back in the 1800’s. His father was a steward and his mother was a teacher. When Marshall was little, his father took the kids to watch court cases and debated with them afterward, and Marshall became an able debater. He said his father never told him to become a lawyer, but he turned him into one! Regardless of our background, we can become upstanding members of our communities and inspire our children. Let’s do it!)