Abandoned S.W. Call Box to be ‘Artistic Icon’ in Memory of Thurgood Marshall

It’s never too late to celebrate a birthday, according to some Southwest District of Columbia residents. Although two months late, to commemorate the 100th birthday of Thurgood Marshall, these residents want to make sure that Marshall’s memory in his old neighborhood is never forgotten.

“Recognizing Marshall’s heroic achievements will demonstrate our community’s appreciation of Thurgood Marshall’s tremendous gifts, not only to his nation, but to his neighborhood,” said Lida Holland Churchville a Southwest Neighborhood Assembly representative (SWNA).

The call box project, sponsored by SWNA will honor Marshall as the first African American Supreme Court Justice and former Southwest resident will be honored by a “one-of-a-kind” call-box near his former southwest home.

“We already have a magnificent international airport named for Justice Marshall in the Washington area,” Churchville said Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. “But our neighborhood Thurgood Marshall Call Box will be a life-sized legacy for a man who lived in Southwest D.C. and who spoke for the voiceless.”

Police and fire call boxes were first installed in D.C. in the 1860s as a public safety feature in some neighborhoods. Many of these call boxes became obsolete and abandoned after 911 calls in the 1970s.

Churchville said, from the 32 call boxes in the Southwest neighborhood most of them will be artistically restored to mimic a cherry blossom theme since Southwest D.C. is the “home of the District’s cherry trees.” But the Marshall call box, Churchville said, will stand as “artistic appreciation of African-American achievement.”

Marshall worked in the courts to end segregation and is mostly remembered for his part in the Brown v. Board of Education case that ended school segregation.

The call box in memory of Marshall will be designed by Annie King Phillips, friend of Cecilia Marshall, Marshall’s wife and member of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, where Marshall was a congregant.

“I have seen Annie King Phillips’ work including art in progress for this call box, and I am excited about her ideas, her enthusiasm and her talents,” Churchville said.

Phillip said she is inspired by “a number of her lifetime experiences” including Marshall’s work.

“First, I am a native Washingtonian, now almost 89 years old, so I was a contemporary of the Honorable Thurgood Marshall,” she said. “As a young woman and student in segregated schools I observed first-hand and benefited from the social action engaged in by this great man.”

Phillips, a collage artist, also lived in the same Southwest neighborhood as Marshall.

“The collages I create have themes of African-American life – our joys, struggles and traditions,” she added. “To pay tribute to the Honorable Justice Thurgood Marshall is a highlight in my life.”

The Call Box Project and its committee are a part of SWNAs History Task Force.

The Marshall Call Box is expected to be complete by the end of the year. Aside from SWNA, Churchville said Cultural Tourism, National Cherry Blossom Festival, Earth Conservation Corps, Ward 6D Advisory Neighborhood Commission and Councilman Tommy Wells have contributed to this project.

Churchville said African Americans, Southwest residents, students and tourist can all benefit from the presence of Marshalls’ Call Box.

“Visitors will discover that our Southwest neighborhood cherishes the work of this hero who lived among us,” Churchville said. “This call box will present to our youth Marshall’s dreams, concerns, his insights about the country into which he was born, and his pursuit of justice and equality for all.”