Life of Thurgood Marshall Celebrated at Washington National Cathedral

Episcopal News Service. February 2, 1993 [93020]

More than 4,000 people gathered on January 28 at Washington National Cathedral to celebrate the life of civil rights pioneer and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who died January 24 at age 84.

President Bill Clinton and Vice President Albert Gore joined Supreme Court justices and members of Congress, as well as General Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer and Washington's Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon.

During the nationally televised funeral service, Marshall was hailed as "Mr. Civil Rights," a courageous man who was "larger than life," who "left an indelible mark on his country." He also was remembered as a loyal, warm and "down-to-earth" man who dearly loved his family and friends.

Gore read a Scripture passage from Amos that included a line repeated several times throughout the service: "But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Marshall's oldest son, Thurgood, Jr., works for the vice president.

Chief Justice William H. Rhenquist spoke of Marshall's "wise counsel and conference" and "physical courage" as a civil rights lawyer in the South who fought for "equal justice under law."

A voice for the voiceless

In another eulogy, Mrs. Karen Hastie Williams, attorney and clerk for Marshall in 1974-1975, hailed his "inner strength and endurance" that "kept him focused on his mission." She said he was the "conscience of the court," a man who "spoke from the heart for the humble people who could not be there to speak for themselves."

Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. former president of the National Urban League, spoke of the "glow of the flame of liberty lit by Thurgood Marshall" that shines "brightly all across the globe." Jordan added, "We hear you reminding us that the battle is not over, the victory not won."

In his homily Dean Nathan D. Baxter referred to Marshall's definition of justice as "getting the same thing at the same time in the same place." Baxter reminded the congregation that, although Marshall's unforgettable contribution to civil rights through the law helped in the fight for racial and economic justice, the law "cannot build bridges. That job belongs to me and you."

Participants in the service praised Marshall as a "man who walked tall where others cowered" and as a "rock of justice," and also urged renewed commitment to furthering the Supreme Court Justice's mission for universal equality.

Lifelong Episcopalian

Marshall was baptized an Episcopalian in Philadelphia's historic St. Thomas' Church and was an active layman most of his life. He called the church his "foundation" and said that he often wondered whether he was strong enough or worthy enough to lead the battle for justice. "But every time I thought that, I remembered how Jesus suffered for all of us, and how much greater his suffering was than mine, and that gave me the inspiration to go on."

In the early days of the civil rights movement, Marshall did not shrink from tackling racism in his own church. A lay deputy from the Diocese of New York to the Episcopal Church's 1964 General Convention in St. Louis, Marshall led a walk-out when the House of Deputies defeated a resolution recognizing the right of civil disobedience. From his earliest days, Marshall described the churches as "the most important bridge for spanning the river separating blacks and whites."

"What we in the church must remember is that racism is not a black problem, it is everyone's problem," Marshall said in an interview a few years ago. "As long as we do not lose sight of the simple truth, we will always be on the side of right."

[thumbnail: National Cathedral Bids F...]