As a child in Virginia, Henry Marsh walked five miles each way to a one-room school for black children, where a single teacher instructed seventy students. Meanwhile, whites traveled by bus to a large, modern school. This experience, in addition to inspiration from his heroes -- Oliver Hill, Thurgood Marshall, and his father -- contributed to Marsh's dedication to the struggle for racial justice.
Marsh attended Virginia Union University and received a law degree from Howard University. In later years, Marsh received honorary degrees from his alma mater, Virginia Union University, and from St. Paul’s College.
After serving in the United States Army, Marsh began a legal career in 1961, joining a Richmond law firm, now Hill, Tucker & Marsh. Serving as counsel for the NAACP, he fought Richmond's segregationist school policies.
In 1966, Marsh successfully ran for a position on the Richmond City Council, and in 1977, he was elected the first African-American mayor of Richmond. As mayor, he led a coalition of black council members who made historical changes in the city, including the adoption of a human rights ordinance, the appointment of many African Americans to boards and commissions, and the revitalization of downtown Richmond. In 1991, he was elected to the Senate of Virginia for the 16th District and is currently serving his third term.