The Anointment of Saint Thurgood?

Last week the Episcopal Diocese of Washington approved the nomination of Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court Justice who died in 1993, as a saint of the church. Elevating Marshall to sainthood now must be approved at consecutive meetings of the national Episcopal Church. The church holds a national convention this summer and the next meeting will be in 2009.

If designated a saint, Marshall's feast day would be May 17, the day in 1954 that the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

In 2005 a major controversy occurred, before all parties agreed, over the renaming of the Baltimore Washington International Airport in Marshall's honor. It can be expected that a similar uproar will occur in any effort to designate Marshall a saint. Marshall was not outspoken about matters of faith but did belong to several Episcopal churches.

During his younger days, Marshall also had a reputation as a lady's man and a person who indulged in excessive partying. In his 1998 biography of the Supreme Court Justice, author Juan Williams quotes one of Marshall's high school classmates: "Thurgood was full of the devil." On his college days at Lincoln University, Williams says of Marshall, "He was a connoisseur of comic books and was always bumming cigarettes. He kept a party going in his room most nights." One classmate called Marshall "a harum-scarum youth, the loudest individual in the dormitory and the one least likely to succeed." Langston Hughes, a fellow Lincoln University student, remembered Marshall as "rough and ready, loud and wrong, good natured and uncouth."

But sainthood for Thurgood Marshall in the Episcopal Church is not out of the question. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leader in the women's suffrage movement, was named an Episcopal saint despite the fact that she was opposed to any organized religion.

Copyright © 2006. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. All rights reserved.