Oliver W. Hill, 100, Civil Rights Lawyer, Is Dead

From the New York Times >

RICHMOND, Va., Aug. 5 (AP) — Oliver W. Hill, a civil rights lawyer who was at the forefront of the legal effort that desegregated public schools, died Sunday at his home here. He was 100.

Mr. Hill’s death was reported by a family friend, Joseph Morrissey.

In 1954, Mr. Hill was involved in the series of lawsuits against racially segregated public schools that became the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

“He was among the vanguard in seeking equal opportunity for all individuals, and he was steadfast in his commitment to effect change. He will be missed,” said L. Douglas Wilder, who in 1989 became the nation’s first elected black governor and was a confidant of Mr. Hill’s. Mr. Wilder is now the mayor of Richmond.

In 1940, Mr. Hill won his first civil rights case in Virginia, one that required equal pay for black and white teachers. Eight years later, he was the first black elected to the Richmond City Council since Reconstruction.

Oliver W. Hill in 1999

A lawsuit argued by Mr. Hill in 1951 on behalf of students protesting deplorable conditions at their high school for blacks in Farmville became one of five cases decided under Brown.

Mr. Hill never lost sight of the importance of the 1954 ruling. Without it, he said this year in an interview in The Richmond Times-Dispatch, he doubted that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “would have gotten to first base.”

Mr. Hill was born May 1, 1907, and his father left when Mr. Hill was an infant. His mother remarried, and Mr. Hill took the name of his stepfather. He moved with his family to Roanoke, Va., where he spent much of his childhood.

Later, his family moved to Washington, where he finished high school. He graduated second in his class from Howard University’s law school in 1933. The top law graduate that year was his friend Thurgood Marshall.

Mr. Marshall and Mr. Hill were part of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund team that fought the desegregation case to the Supreme Court. They remained close friends after Mr. Marshall became the court’s first black justice.

Though blind and in a wheelchair in recent years, Mr. Hill remained active in social and civil rights causes and in the operations of his law firm until 1998. The next year, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *