Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) will long be remembered as one of the key members of the United States Supreme Court, serving as an associate justice from 1967 to 1991. He was the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by President Lyndon Johnson after an illustrious career as an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1954, the year in which the March of Dimes polio vaccine field trial was under way to test the effectiveness of the vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, Thurgood Marshall argued as an NAACP lawyer his most famous case before the Supreme Court. In Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, the court issued a landmark decision which effectively rendered racial discrimination in public education illegal in the United States.
Brown v. Board of Education and the Salk polio vaccine field trial both changed America for the better. The first ensured that African-Americans could not be prevented from attending the same schools as whites. The second ushered in a period of polio immunization led by the March of Dimes that ended the threat of polio in the U.S. within a few short years. Thurgood Marshall, seen in the 1957 photo here with his wife and young son, supported our efforts by rolling up his sleeve to get his “Salk shot” as did countless thousands of others in the drive to defeat polio. Marshall, along with many other black celebrities from the worlds of sports, art, entertainment, and politics either gave performances in support of the March of Dimes or posed for photos in vaccination scenes that expressed a clear message: getting vaccinated was the only way to prevent paralytic polio and the lifelong disabilities that it could cause.
Charles H. Bynum, our Director for Inter-Racial Relations in the 1950s, was the person responsible for recruiting black celebrities to the fight against polio. Mr. Bynum and the March of Dimes made polio care a civil rights issue, and stars like Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson enthusiastically supported the Foundation to uphold its pledge that polio care would be offered equally to all. Thurgood Marshall was among these, and his endorsement of the Salk polio vaccine and the March of Dimes is implicit in his appearance in this historic photo. Today, in its mission to prevent birth defects and premature birth, the March of Dimes continues to provide current information about vaccination during pregnancy as well as childhood vaccination, as one of the many important ways to promote maternal and child health. We are proud to say that Justice Thurgood Marshall is prominent in this historic effort.