Correcting Facts on “Young Thurgood”: Big Fish Q&A with UM Law Professor Larry Gibson
For decades, UM law prof and political consultant Larry Gibson found himself talking the record straight about Thurgood Marshall’s youth and young adulthood – it bothered him that the media held certain basic misconceptions about the justice. For example, Marshall didn’t resent his hometown of Baltimore. He didn’t lack a sense of humor. Nor did Marshall ever intend to be a dentist! Of course, there’s meatier more (the meticulously researched book weighs in at 413 pages). But you’ll have to read Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice (Prometheus) for the larger, nuanced character study.
Gibson first met Marshall on July 1, 1975 when he knocked on the justice’s door at 11 p.m. to ask a bathrobe-clad Marshall to sign an emergency order on behalf of Roland Patterson, the Baltimore schools superintendent whose job was on the line. The men would meet again a few times. But that late evening 37 years ago marked an important moment for Gibson, and for Marshall, too. Personalities sparked: the justice welcomed the young lawyer and his associate into his home to talk at leisurely length, until two in the morning, in fact.
“I view Young Thurgood as a story about a partnership between two men,” Ron Shapiro, Gibson’s longtime law partner, told The Baltimore Sun. “I think that Justice Marshall saw something in Larry that made him think that was a guy he should give some time to.”
Gibson, who was born in D.C. but grew up in Baltimore, is still celebrated locally for his recurring role as campaign manager to Mayor Kurt Schmoke, and likewise still revered for his outspoken political opinions. What’s his own log-line for the Marshall book? The author told an audience at the Pratt recently: “[Young Thurgood’] is a book about what Thurgood Marshall was like…and the state from beginning of the 20th century through the Great Depression. The Depression in which [Marshall] was born and grew up. [It is about how] events in Maryland molded Marshall’s attitudes, work habits and priorities…”
I talked to Gibson about his law career, his life philosophy, and his passionate interest in Marshall.
Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?
My goal in life is to be a just and learned man and to help other just and learned people succeed.
What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?
The best advice I ever got was to get married.
Name one surprising truth you’ve discovered in your lifetime.
I have traveled in 65 countries. I have been surprised by how similar people are around the world.
What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?
Work on things you like to do. You will be best at what you like.
What is the best moment of the day?
What is on your bedside table?
Books and material to be read.
You’ve noted that Young Thurgood features two characters: Thurgood Marshall and the state of Maryland. Can you share one state-related detail you learned researching this book?
I learned how much Thurgood Marshall used politics and diplomacy, not just the law, to obtain results.
Why did you want to focus specifically on Marshall’s life up to age 30?
I wanted to write a book about what Thurgood Marshall was like. His personality, attitudes, work habits, and priorities were all developed by the time he became 30. The book shows how Maryland, its people, and its events influenced this development.