Thurgood Marshall and Troy Davis–An Essay

By Harran Holmes—

If my legal spearhead Thurgood Marshall were still a justice on the Supreme Court would things have been any different with the Troy Davis execution that took place on September 21,2011? My response to this question is yes. After reading Juan Williams’ book Thurgood Marshall American Revolutionary, my respect and fond fascination with Marshall’s character, his way of life and his stand for equal rights for all has sharpened. Thurgood Marshall was elected the first African American justice on the highest court in the United States not because he conformed to the views of his surrounding justices but because he submitted to nothing other than what he believed was right for the human race, not solely African Americans.

This question exploded in my thought pattern like firecrackers under water. The time period we currently live in cannot be compared to the time that Justice Marshall was at his finest, legally. We are not fighting to have the right to vote, to ride public buses, to drink from public water fountains or to integrate our schools. But, what we are still fighting for is equal protection under the law. Justice Marshall did not believe that the death penalty should be legalized. Why? Because it is an irreversible no mistake style of punishment:

…Marshall’s work on the court centered on one issue: the death penalty. He had helped to engineer the 5-4 ruling in the 1972 Furman case, which outlawed capital punishment because of arbitrary sentencing. Now the Florida, Georgia, and Texas legislatures had put in place guidelines for sentencing more consistent and end any racial bias in sentencing. In the 1972 case Marshall had been absolutely opposed to the death penalty. He viewed it as cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional. (Williams 359)

Until power is equally dispersed between a respectable number of African Americans and Caucasians, neither will understand the hardship and disadvantages of the other. Justice Marshall’s testimonial stories about being the only justice at his time to defend clients that were sentenced to life in prison verses the clients escaping the electric chair is what he considered a victory. Times have changed since then solely because there isn’t a voice that opposes such injustice audibly without the fearlessness of losing impressive and notable positions:

Ironically, though, by the time Marshall died, several powerful forces, many produced by his lifetime work promoting equal rights, conspired to resurrect him as a national hero. First, as a lawyer Marshall had forced colleges and graduate schools to open their doors, producing more black professionals. As a federal judge he had become a champion of programs to expand business contracts and wealth for that black middle class. This rise in education and affluence among black Americans led to an unparalleled peak of black political power. At the time of his death, the number of blacks in Congress had reached record heights, forty in the house and one in the senate. (Williams 399)

From the time Thurgood Marshall was first appointed to this current day, there has only been two African American Supreme Court Justices,  Marshall, himself, and the current Justice Clarence Thomas, who was nominated by George H. W. Bush in 1991 to succeed Thurgood Marshall who retired the same year. Only two.

We have not yet arrived. We have not made the progress that Martin Luther King sermonized about in his “I have a dream” speech. We are far beyond our Malcolm X phase, as well as the Back-to-Africa movement which promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands.  We have even been disillusioned by the media to think our 41st President Barrack Obama is a mere failure, which he is not.

Until the African American community takes charge and instructs our children in the power of studying in contrast to learning how to make a three pointer in basketball from the halfway mark painted on the court, we won’t progress as much as we Hope. In allusion to Obama’s campaign slogan, No We Cannot.

We cannot expect for a change we can believe in if none of our students graduate in the top rankings in their classes; we cannot if all our males are in gangs killing each other. It is impossible. Why? Because if we continue, the power will continue to reside in the hands of the new found minority.

As stated in The New York Times, the census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.

We must stand for change, not sit tranquil as if lying in a la-z-boy chair and wait for it. Obama cannot change anything unless we Vote, Unite, Speak up and Engage.

We mustn’t vote only for the primary elections but also for the lower level elections as well. We mustn’t unite only in death and marriage. We mustn’t only speak up about the negative we see but change it. We mustn’t engage only in Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s pregnancy, but we must challenge things that directly affect our income, our education, and jobs.

I must revisit my initial question. If Thurgood Marshall were here, would the Troy Davis case have been any different? I answer this question with an astounding yes. I consider myself engaged in politics, the news and things that affect me on a direct and personal level, but pertaining to this specific case I knew nothing of it until it was absolutely too late. And I regret that whole heartily.


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