Review of Making of America: Thurgood Marshall


Thurgood Marshall, an icon in African American history, is well portrayed in Teri Kanefield’s latest book in her Making Of America series. 

Marshall was born in 1908 in Old West Baltimore, and would grow up to become one of America’s top civil rights lawyers and later a Supreme Court Justice. He succesfully argued the case that challenged racial segregation in American schools (Brown vs. Board of Education) and argued in support of Martin Luther King’s Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

He was able to do all of this despite significant obstacles to his success, mostly the legal racism of this time. Marshall was arrested as a teenager for cutting in front of a white woman on a Baltimore city trolley, and he was rejected from the University of Maryland School of Law because of his race. Marshall found other ways to move ahead, attending Howard University School of Law, a school dedicated to educating black men.  

Kanefield’s Making of America series focuses on change makers, and earlier books in the series dealt with Susan B. Anthony, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Alexander Hamilton, among others. Like her earlier books, The Making of America: Thurgood Marshall does a great job of immersing the reader in the historical period. You will learn a lot about the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and the tension of those times. The difference from a lot of other history books, though, is that Kanefield puts Marshall’s feelings into the text. She describes, for example, how he was scared by the early marches and protests led by Dr. King because he knew they would be met with great violence. Overall, Marshall wanted people to work within the law. 

In order to be historically accurate, Kanefield includes the N-word and outdated terms such as negro. This can take some getting used to, and it is jarring to read. She also describes the violence towards African Americans during Marshall’s lifetime, like lynchings and bombings, which is also hard to read about. 

Kanefield’s books are not as easy or fun as Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, but they are also not boring textbooks. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in those who were behind the court cases during the civil rights movement, or if you just want to learn more about black history and the key figures in it. Kanefield includes special text boxes that define terms (like Ku Klux Klan or civil disobedience) or historical events (like important court cases) so you don’t have to already know all the historical background to understand this book.