Thurgood Marshall Day – May 17

A stalwart group at Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s former parish, St. Augustine’s in Southwest D.C., is fighting to keep his legacy alive.

In January 2006, the group petitioned the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington to designate May 17 as Thurgood Marshall Day in the diocese, which it did. Last summer, at the group’s request, the diocese also asked the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to include Marshall in its book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

The Convention referred the request to the Church’s Standing Commission on the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music. The commission will decide whether to support Marshall’s cause at the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim.

Other Civil Rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., have already been added to the calendar.

“I’d like to see particularly the young people of our church and nation know more about what he did and how dangerous it was to do what he did,” said the Rev. Bruce Eberhardt, one of the resolution’s sponsors.

The grandson of a freed slave, Marshall is best known for his landmark 1954 Civil Rights victory; the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that desegregated schools. But before this, he spent 30 years risking his life in order to file lawsuits across the South on behalf of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, among his many accomplishments.

While he did not speak publicly about his faith, Marshall worshipped at St. Augustine’s from 1965 until his death in 1993 and also served on the vestry. He raised his two sons in the church and his widow, Cissy, is still a member of the parish.

When he was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice in 1967, Marshall’s Bible was open to 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter that describes God’s gift of love.

The group has put forward this text, along with Amos 5:10-15, 21-24, (love good and establish justice); Psalm 34:15-22 (deliverance from trouble); and Matthew 23:1-11 (Jesus denounces the scribes and Pharisees) as proposed propers for his commemoration.

Eberhardt also has written a Collect for Thurgood, and invites all parishes in the diocese who plan to commemorate Marshall on May 17, the date of the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling, to make use of the prayer.

If the diocese can demonstrate that Thurgood Marshall Day is being actively observed, Eberhardt said, it will help the effort to gain national recognition for this native son and Civil Rights champion.

This year, May 17 falls on a Thursday, he said, so St. Augustine’s has decided to honor Marshall on the following Sunday, May 20, instead. The parish plans to have a historical re-enactor do a reading from a new play about Marshall’s life, “Thurgood,” written by 11-time Emmy Award-winner and two-time Peabody Award-winner George Stevens Jr.

The one-man drama stars the acclaimed actor James L. Jones and is now playing at the Westport County Playhouse in Connecticut, Eberhard said. Stevens hopes to take his play to Broadway.

As part of its commemoration last May 17, St. Augustine’s showed a segment from the 1991 film, “Separate But Equal,” starring Sidney Poitier as Thurgood Marshall, also directed by Stevens, and Eberhardt preached a sermon about Marshall’s life and legacy.

“At the very least, [churches should] have a sermon or a homily devoted to the man and his accomplishments,” Eberhardt said. “Racism is still an ugly problem in our country and Thurgood took a step to get over it.”

by Lucy Chumbly Washington Window

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