Thurgood Marshall's coming!
Anna Marie and Graham Thatcher's play "Thurgood Marshall's Coming!" is a moving monologue based on the personal writings and reflections of Thurgood Marshall. The play combines his meditations on the shortcomings and potential of the law and his reflections on the vicissitudes of his career. The play highlights Marshall's humor and courage in the face of racism, his unwavering belief in the law to ensure justice and his passionate belief in individuals to create change. These themes are articulated by T. Mychael Rambo's simultaneously exuberant and understated performance as the late Marshall, rendering a nuanced and inspiring portrait of this monolith of American jurisprudence. Marshall was a celebrated civil rights lawyer, best known for arguing Brown v. Board of Education, and was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Rambo's performance made Marshall's ... into a relatable human: vulnerable, humorous, witty, passionate, humble, joyful.
The play takes place in Marshall's cluttered office, the presence of boxes tells us that it is the end of his tenure as a Supreme Court Justice. As he packs his office some of the objects (a picture of Frederick Douglass, the dictionary, notes from major cases, notes from law school), cause him to reflect on his career as a lawyer and the first African-American Supreme Court justice and on the law:. We learn of Marshall's formative years in law school at Howard University, and the influence of his mentor Charles Houston who taught his students to be social engineers, to use the law and the courts to effect change. This tenet guided Marshall's career as a lawyer and judge, and his legal philosophy can be described simply: "I wanted the Constitution to work equally for everyone." Marshall placed his trust in the rule of law, that the law is a malleable instrument capable of ensuring justice for everyone. In accordance with his judicial philosophy, he spoke of his respect for his adversaries in the courtroom, his early belief in slowly chipping away at Plessy v. Ferguson and his uncontained excitement at overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine with Brown, this being his proudest moment. He spoke modestly of his own accomplishments, and instead pointed to Elizabeth Eckford, the black school girl who walked through a white mob and the National Guard to attend an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas as a true hero. He also reflected on the disdain he encountered from radical black liberationists who thought of him as an Uncle Tom. In his own defense, Marshall spoke of his desire to conduct himself with honor, dignity and civility even though the world he lived in and even the hallowed halls of justice were devoid of this basic humanity. "The law can open doors," he said, "it can knock down walls. Building bridges are up to you and me."
In experiencing Marshall's life dramatically, we can reflect and rejoice with Marshall in all his triumphs and to feel his pain at the shortcomings, because we know Marshall's desire for the Constitution to provide justice for everyone has not been realized. We know the America Marshall wanted, that Langston Hughes (the poet's words being among the last uttered in the play) wrote of so eloquently has not yet been realized: "O, let America be America again-- /The land that never has been yet--/ And yet must be--the land where every man is free. /The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME-- /Who made America, /Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, /Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, /Must bring back our mighty dream again."