Marshall, A True Story

Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman, and Sterling K. Brown in a scene from Marshall. Photo: Barry Wetcher, Open Road Films

A Must-See Movie!

The movie Marshall is based on a 1941 trial during the career of Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African American on the Supreme Court when he was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967.

The film follows Marshall (played by Chadwick Boseman) to conservative Connecticut, where he defended a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) charged with sexual assault and attempted murder of his white socialite employer (Kate Hudson).

Marshall at the time was a staff attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. While the trial was covered by multiple news organizations, reports from the Associated Press failed to mention Marshall’s involvement in the case, saying only that the defendant, Joseph Spell, had been defended by the NAACP.

According to the 1941 Associated Press report of Spell’s acquittal:

“BRIDGEPORT, Conn., Jan. 31 (AP) — Joseph Spell, 31-year-old colored servant accused of criminally assaulting his employer, Mrs. Eleanor Strubing, attractive Greenwich socialite, was acquitted tonight by a Superior Court jury of six men and six women.

“The jury deliberated nearly 13 hours.

“As the foreman announced the acquittal, audible gasps came from several in the courtroom. Spectators included Philip Strubing, a Philadelphia attorney and brother-in-law of Mrs. Strubing. She and her husband, John K. Strubing Jr., former Princeton athlete, were absent, however.

“State’s Attorney Lorin W. Willis, who had asked the jury for a conviction lest ‘shame and disgrace’ fall upon Mrs. Strubing, moved that Spell’s bail be continued until the State could determine ‘what course of action is to be pursued.’ The defense did not oppose the motion.

Spell, exclaiming ‘What a relief!’ told newsmen: ‘I’m going back to my sick mother in Louisiana where I should have been.’

“He was arrested last December 11 in the basement of the Strubing home after Mrs. Strubing had been found on the banks of the Kensico Reservoir in North Castle, N.Y., and sobbed out to police a story of having been thrice raped by “my houseman,” who, she said, “must have gone berserk.”

“He had driven her to the reservoir and thrown her into the water, she charged.

“Testifying at the trial for a day and a half last week, Mrs. Strubing said Spell, who had been in her employ as a butler and chauffeur less than two months, accosted her in her bedroom as she emerged from a shower bath, attacked her, made her write a ransom note to her husband who was away at the time and then took her on a wild automobile ride.

“Spell, defended by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, stolidly denied her story. His only purpose in going to her room, he maintained, was to ask for money for his mother and he declared he had been ‘led on’ by his employer.

“He testified he left her at the reservoir at her own request, and drove away only when she refused to heed his calls to return to the car.”

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