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Gibson’s ‘Young Thurgood’ details Marshall’s influences

Kristi Tousignant//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//December 4, 2012

Gibson’s ‘Young Thurgood’ details Marshall’s influences

By Kristi Tousignant

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//December 4, 2012

When law professor Larry S. Gibson was working on his book about Thurgood Marshall’s early life, he woke up at 5 a.m. to write — the same time the late U.S. Supreme Court justice arose to attend Howard University School of Law.

Others have written that Thurgood Marshall hated Baltimore, but Larry S. Gibson says: ‘He actually had rather fond memories of growing up in Baltimore.’

Gibson, who has been a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law for 38 years, continued to follow the path of Marshall’s younger years while writing “Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice,” which was published this week.

Gibson’s book follows the legendary civil rights attorney through his youth, undergraduate years at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, time at Howard University School of Law and his early career as a lawyer in Baltimore before Marshall went to New York in 1938 to work for the NAACP.

“This is a man with a great sense of humor and one that had not come to detest Baltimore as had been represented in other books,” Gibson said. “He actually had rather fond memories of growing up in Baltimore.”

The book, the only one to be endorsed by Marshall’s family, takes a look at not only Marshall, but also his early role models as well as the history of Maryland, both of which, Gibson said, influenced Marshall’s life.

“It is not so much about what he did, but what he was like and the forces that shaped him,” Gibson said.

Gibson first met Marshall on July 1, 1975, when he traveled to Marshall’s house to deliver documents while Gibson was representing embattled former Baltimore schools Superintendent Roland Patterson. They dealt with a legal matter for 15 minutes, but Gibson stayed at the house for several hours, listening to stories of the man’s early life.

“It was an evening I have cherished ever since then and will never forget,” Gibson said.

Gibson, who is also an attorney at Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler, started interviewing family members, neighbors and teachers of the country’s first African-American Supreme Court justice as early as 1981, but did not decide to write an actual book until 2002, at the urging of then-law school Dean Karen H. Rothenberg.

Of the 11 interviews he conducted in the 1980s, only one of the sources is still alive, Gibson said. (Marshall died in 1993.) He was able to find original material in these interviews, including the photo on the book cover, a picture given to him by Marshall’s former roommate at Lincoln University. The photo is of Marshall standing outside his dorm building as a student.

“I just held on to that picture for 30 years,” Gibson said. “No one else had it.”

Gibson then set about researching. With the help of students, he went through all the NAACP papers on Marshall in the Library of Congress, Maryland State Archives and old issues of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper. He and his students even went through handwritten docket books from the Baltimore Circuit Court, searching for Marshall’s old court cases.

“The interviews were easy,” Gibson said. “It was then a matter of reconstructing his life.”

Marshall’s family also allowed Gibson to go through the contents from Marshall’s old office, the only biographer who has been allowed to do so, Gibson said.

Gibson and the students eventually compiled 2,700 old telegrams, memorandums, letters and documents from Marshall’s early life into a database.

“It was like he was on Twitter,” Gibson said. “There was a period of time where he sent a memo a day.”

Gibson said he was most surprised throughout the research process by Marshall’s knack for politics. Gibson said Marshall cultivated strong relationships with judges and even treated opposing counsel as comrades.

“I did not know how much he used personal charm and personal relationships with lawyers and judges to win cases,” Gibson said.

Gibson himself is no stranger to politics, having served as the campaign manager to former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and as the Maryland state chairman of President Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. He was an associate deputy attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department under President Jimmy Carter and has also served as a political adviser to African leaders.

At the law school, Gibson teaches evidence, civil procedure, race and law and election law and helped students rename the school’s library Thurgood Marshall Law Library. He was also a leader in an effort to name Baltimore’s airport Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The book also focuses on Maryland and Baltimore history, since Gibson said the location shaped much of Marshall’s youth.

“There’s so much about Maryland politics, economics and sociology that you could call Maryland the other principal character in the book,” Gibson said.

The book’s main character is Marshall’s personality, however, one Gibson said is often inaccurately portrayed in other writings. Gibson remembered him as an outgoing, funny man, eager to talk and tell stories.

Gibson cites his last encounter with Marshall during an event commemorating the naming of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in 1985. Gibson asked Marshall to take a picture with him, and the photographer took too long taking the photo.

“What am I supposed to do?” Marshall asked Gibson. “Kiss you?”


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