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US Issues Stamp Honoring Nation's First Black Supreme Court Justice - 2003-01-14

The U.S. Post Office Monday issued its first commemorative stamp of the year, honoring Thurgood Marshall, the celebrated civil rights lawyer and the nation's first African American Supreme Court Justice who died 10 years ago.

As lead counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Thurgood Marshall conceived legal strategies that challenged racial discrimination in education, housing, electoral politics, and criminal justice. His most famous victory was the 1954 case, Brown v. Board of Education, which essentially led to the desegregation of U.S. schools.

His former colleague, Judge John Walker, says it is impossible to overstate the impact of Thurgood Marshall's civil rights accomplishments on the United States.

"It was the most far-reaching social change this country has ever undergone, and this man was at the heart of it," he said. "Thurgood Marshall not only represented his people, but uplifted all Americans."

Judge Walker hopes the 37-cent stamp, 150 million of which have already been printed, will make Mr. Marshall's accomplishments known to an even larger audience.

As a Supreme Court Justice from 1967 until 1991, and as an Appeals Court Judge in New York State before that, Thurgood Marshall was known for his commitment to defending constitutional rights and affirmative action, as well as his opposition to the death penalty.

Vinnie Malloy of the U.S. Postal Service, who led the dedication ceremony, says the honor has special resonance for her as an African American.

"Thurgood Marshall had a lot to do with what the United States is today," she said. "In fact, when I reflect back over my life, if it wasn't for Thurgood Marshall, I probably wouldn't be where I am today."

Members of the Marshall family, including his wife and granddaughter, attended the dedication ceremony. His son, John Marshall, says seeing his father on a stamp is an important honor.

"It's very exciting, but at the same time, we're very proud," he said. "It's hard to believe he's been gone for 10 years. But it [the stamp] also serves as a reminder that there's a lot more work to be done. And I hope that's the message people will take when they see this stamp."

The stamp dedication comes in anticipation of Black History Month, celebrated in February, and is the 26th edition in the Postal Service's Black Heritage Series. That series has already featured poet Langston Hughes, civil rights activist Malcolm X, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.