July 2 is now Thurgood Marshall Day in Maryland.
With proclamations from Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, July 2, Marshall’s birthday, will now honor the Baltimore native and first African American justice on the Supreme Court.
Marshall, born in Baltimore in 1908, worked as a lawyer and civil rights activist before his time as a justice. He argued groundbreaking civil rights cases on behalf of the NAACP, including Brown v. Board of Education, that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that segregated schools were unconstitutional.
“Thurgood Marshall was a formidable and transformational figure in the history of this country,” said Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals Robert M. Bell during a news conference. “Thurgood Marshall moved this country closer to the more perfect union which the Founding Fathers envisioned.”
Marshall grew up in West Baltimore, and attended elementary school at P.S. 103, also known as Henry Highland Garnet School, where community members gathered Friday to celebrate the first Thurgood Marshall Day.
The former school, now a vacant red brick building emblazoned with a “No Loitering” sign and marred by chipping paint, was the epicenter of Marshall’s neighborhood growing up, just blocks away from his house, church and family store.
Larry S. Gibson, author of “Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice,” said P.S. 103 in Upton was the most elite school at the time for Black children in Baltimore.
Cynthia Shaw, a 1956 graduate of P.S. 103, said that growing up, she did not know Marshall’s legacy, or that his activism was the reason many of her classmates went on to integrated high schools.
“When we attended, we didn’t know anything about Thurgood Marshall,” Shaw said.
But Shaw said she felt his legacy in the strong sense of community and Black leadership that P.S. 103 created.
Now, with the designation of Thurgood Marshall day and plans to redevelop and reopen the former school on Division Street as a community center, Shaw said she hopes children growing up in Upton will know Marshall’s name and the legacy of the school.
“Thurgood Marshall can shine within the walls,” Shaw said.
The new building will undergo an $8.2 million renovation, according to the Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., senior pastor of Union Baptist Church and president of Beloved Community Services Corp., the nonprofit leading the renovation.
The new project will create space for legal offices, gun violence prevention work and community outreach programs targeted at engaging young people in West Baltimore. There will also be exhibits to honor Marshall as well as U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who donated artifacts from his campaign to the project prior to his death in 2019.
The project will take nine months of construction, and aims to break ground in January 2022, opening by the end of the year.
Organizers hope to create resources for the Upton and West Baltimore community, while allowing the values and activism of Marshall to live on in a new generation, according to Hathaway.
“Justice Thurgood Marshall will be to Baltimore as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to Atlanta,” Hathaway said. “He is our native son.”
The National Park Service is also studying whether P.S. 103 could be designated as a National Park unit, which would formalize P.S. 103′s place in the history books of Baltimore. Currently, Fort McHenry is the only National Park unit in Baltimore.
In a statement, Gov. Larry Hogan praised Marshall and the new holiday designated in his honor.
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“It is because of him and the example he set that, while there is still work left to be done, our state and our nation have come a long way in the struggle for equal rights and equal opportunity,” he said.