Association Mourns Passing of Civil Rights Legal Pioneer

Oliver Hill's record of success set tone for greater society; His work must endure and be defended


August 06, 2007

The entire NAACP family extends sincerest sympathy to the family of Oliver W. Hill Sr., Spingarn medalist and skillful civil rights attorney who was among the architects of the legal strategies that led to public school desegregation in the U.S. He died yesterday at his Richmond, Va. home following breakfast. He was 100.

In 1933 Hill graduated second in his class at Howard University Law School, behind classmate and long time friend Thurgood Marshall. In1940 he won one of the earliest civil rights cases ever heard in Virginia, establishing equal pay for black teachers.

"Oliver W. Hill was a champion for civil rights during a long career as Virginia's foremost civil rights lawyer," said NAACP National Board of Directors Chairman Julian Bond. "He lived long enough to see the apex of his legal career, which was the victorious Supreme Court decision in 1954's Brown v. Board of Education, undermined by the present-day Supreme Court. He won countless battles in Virginia's courtrooms, won election to the Richmond city council when that was unthinkable for a black man, and set a high standard for dignity and perseverance. There are few like him today. He will be much missed."

During the 1940s and `50s Hill's life was under constant threat and a cross was burned on his lawn because of his civil rights work.

In 1943, Hill joined the United States Army, serving in Europe during World War II. Returning to his law practice after the war, he won for Black school children the right to equal transportation in a decision by the Virginia Supreme Court. By 1949 he'd become 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, Va. became one of five cases decided under Brown.

"His courage, intellect and devotion set a high mark that's made a lasting contribution which even today enriches the lives of many," said Dennis Courtland Hayes, NAACP Interim President & CEO. "His work made America a better place to live. His tireless efforts to ensure that the principles of equality and equal opportunity espoused by our Constitution reach every child in America will serve as a lasting tribute to the good fight he waged."

Hill remained active in the day-to-day operations of his law firm until 1998 though blind and wheelchair bound. In 1999 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton. In 2005, the NAACP presented Hill the Spingarn Award-- its highest honor-- for distinguished achievement.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

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