Venerable civil rights lawyer dead at 100
RICHMOND, Va. – Oliver W. Hill, a civil rights lawyer who was at the forefront of the legal effort that desegregated public schools, has died at age 100, a family friend said.
Hill died peacefully Sunday at his home during breakfast, said Joseph Morrissey.
In 1954, he was part of a series of lawsuits against racially segregated public schools that became the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which laid the foundation for integrated education.
“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 Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who in 1989 became the nation’s first elected black governor and was a confidant of Hill’s.
In 1940, 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 Richmond’s City Council since Reconstruction.
A lawsuit argued by 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.
Those battles to end the Jim Crow era were dangerous ones for Hill and other civil rights leaders. Hill once received so many threats that he and his wife, Berensenia, would not allow their son to answer the telephone.
Hill grew up in Washington, D.C., where he graduated from high school and finished second in his class at Howard University’s law school in 1933. The top law graduate that year was his friend Thurgood Marshall.
Marshall and Hill were part of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund team that fought the desegregation case to the Supreme Court. They remained close after Marshall became the court’s first black justice.