Politics Donald Gaines Murray

Donald Gaines Murray

Donald Gaines Murray


Donald Gaines Murray

Donald Gaines Murray was the plaintiff in the 1936 case of Murray v. Pearson, an important case in the history of legal desegregation. The case began in January of 1935, when Donald Gaines Murray filed an application to be admitted to the University of Maryland School of Law, which was the only law school in the state. At the time, the institution was segregated and attendantly rejected the application of Donald Gaines Murray. The letter explaining this rejection went on to offer assistance in obtaining admission to a law school in another state, citing the "separate but equal" doctrine established in the 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which found that segregation of blacks and whites was legal provided both were provided with access to substantively equal institutions.


Donald Gaines Murray declined this offer and appealed his rejection to the school's Board of Regents, which did not reconsider the school's decision. Donald Gaines Murray was then approached by the African-American fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, which retained lawyers to represent him at no cost in Baltimore City Court. The legal strategy prepared by attorneys Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston began by pointing out that there was no law school for African-Americans in Maryland. Furthermore, they pointed out that the law in every state is different, and that training in another state would not aid Donald Gaines Murray in obtaining legal employment in the state of Maryland.


The legal strategy was also designed to question the legality of "separate but equal." By arguing that Donald Gaines Murray was being denied access to education that would allow him to practice in Maryland, the attorneys charged that the "equal protection clause" of the 14th Amendment had been violated. The attorneys of Donald Gaines Murray therefore filed for a writ of mandamus which would compel the University of Maryland to admit him into the law school. The court agreed with the argument and issued this writ.


Their decision was subsequently appealed by the University of Maryland. The state Court of Appeals then heard the case and concurred with the ruling issued by the lower court in 1936. As a result, Donald Gaines Murray was admitted to the educational facility.


The significance of the case was limited to the state of Maryland, since the ruling was only valid on a state rather than federal level. However, the case was one of several desegregation efforts which laid the foundations for the 1954 Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education, which put an end to legal segregation.


Following his admission to and graduation from law school, Donald Gaines Murray became a practicing lawyer. Many of his cases were concerned with winning similar desegregation rulings related to graduate schools operated by the University of Maryland. In addition to his work as a private practitioner, Donald Gaines Murray also served on Maryland state boards regulating liquor and movie censorship.