When he was a young lawyer in Baltimore, Thurgood Marshall says his highest aim was to become a magistrate. At that time there were only two black magistrates in the country. By the end of his career at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, however, Marshall's options had expanded considerably, and in 1961, he was ready for a career change. "I'd kind of outlived my usefulness, in original ideas, in the NAACP hierarchy," Marshall says, "And I had been shopping around, thinking of going in some law firm, making myself a good hunk of money." Instead, he took a job as a judge on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. President John F. Kennedy made this historic appointment, but with little help from his brother, Bobby, the U.S. Attorney General.

In a 1977 interview, Marshall explained how that came about.


Marshall: [John F.] Kennedy, the president, was a very sweet man. As a matter of fact, [Attorney General] Bobby [Kennedy] wanted me to go on the trial court in New York and I told him no, and he says, "Well, why?"

I said, "My boiling point is too low for the trial court. I'd blow my stack and then get reversed. But I would go on the court of appeals."

He said, "Well, you can't go on the court of appeals."

I said, "Well, there's an opening."

He said, "But that's already been filled."

I said, "So?"

He said, "You don't seem to understand, it's this or nothing."

I said, "Well, I do understand. The trouble is that you are different from me. You don't know what it means, but all I've had in my life is nothing. It's not new to me, so, good-bye." And I walked out.

That was about the second time I had a good run-in with him. And about, I don't know, days later or maybe a week later, a fellow ran into me. He was a Negro who was the vice-chairman of the Democratic Party, Louis Martin, and he asked me, Would I take the court of appeals job?

I told him, "Sure." And the next day I was appointed.