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Hill, Oliver W.

Oliver W. Hill

1907-2007

Lawyer

As a young man Oliver W. Hill realized that the legal system offered the most effective way to achieve an equal footing for African Americans in American society. He went to law school and blazed a trail virtually unparalleled in the history of the civil rights movement. In 1948, Hill became the first African American elected to the Richmond City Council since Reconstruction. Hill was applauded as "one of the pioneer civil rights lawyers of our age" by Ronald L. Plesser in 1994. Plesser, the section chair of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities, was announcing Hill's selection as the recipient of that year's Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association. "His lifetime commitment to achieving equal rights through law positively affected the direction of the entire nation at a crucial time in our history."

Fascinated with Impact of Laws

Born Oliver White Hill in Richmond, Virginia, on May 1, 1907, Hill had an early fascination with the role of law in society as it related to African Americans. While at Howard University, he and other students realized there was no hope of attaining equal rights through the U.S. Congress. That branch of government clung to the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson, a case that stated that the provision of "separate but equal" facilities for African Americans did not violate the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments, amendments which outlawed slavery after the Civil War.

The Plessy vs. Ferguson decision led to the creation of Jim Crow laws, which institutionalized racial separation in schools, public facilities and transportation. "So our only hope was to go back through the courts and get the courts to reinterpret and correct the mistake made in 1896," Hill said at a program celebrating the 40th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, and excerpted in Human Rights. "And that is the reason I went to law school." While attending the Howard University School of Law, Hill became friends with a fellow student, Thurgood Marshall, who would become the lead attorney in the Brown case and a future Supreme Court Justice. The two friends both graduated in 1993; Marshall was the top law student in their graduating class, Hill the second.

Began Legal Career

Hill began his law practice in 1934 and was one of the few African-American lawyers in the South. By 1940 he had won his first civil rights case, which demanded black teachers receive pay equal to that of white teachers. Many of his cases were race related, and Hill was involved in litigation involving voting rights and equal access to housing and public facilities. In 1947 Hill ran for the Virginia House of Delegates, the lone African American in a field of 18 candidates seeking seven seats. Hill fell 190 votes short. "Had he been nominated and then elected in November," the New York Times reported at the time, "Mr. Hill would have been the first [black] to occupy a seat in the General Assembly since the session of 1889-1890."

The following year Hill sought political office again, this time as a candidate for the Richmond City Council. Hill's quest was successful and he became the first African American to be elected in Richmond in 52 years. Hill placed ninth in a field of 29 candidates for nine vacant seats and finished ahead of some white candidates. In a New York Times editorial, the election was hailed as "a good omen for the South." The article continued, "That the candidate is an educated person and a young man is especially important, for from the age of thirty-one, he can look forward to long years of service to his people and to his community as a whole."

In 1950, Hill lost his bid for reelection to the Richmond City Council and returned to his private law practice. In 1951 another council member resigned to take a job outside of Richmond, and the all-white council had to decide who would replace him. Hill was mentioned as a possible replacement, but his increasingly outspoken views against segregation had sparked opposition within the council and the white community. In a move that angered Richmond's 40,000 African Americans, the council chose a former white council member to fill the vacant seat.

Influential in Landmark Case

By this time, Hill was actively assisting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in their lawsuits against the state of Virginia. These lawsuits demanded improved educational facilities for African-American children. Hill eventually became the leading attorney in the case of Davis vs. County School Board of Prince Edward County (Virginia), which was initiated on behalf of black students protesting the poor conditions at their segregated school in Farmville, Virginia. It was one of five cases that the Supreme Court combined into their 1954 decision of Brown vs. Board of Education. That decision, which overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson, was the culmination of nearly 20 years of hard work.

At a Glance …

Born Oliver White Hill on May 1, 1907, in Richmond, VA; died on August 5, 2007, Richmond, VA; son of Olivia Lewis White-Hill and William Henry White II; married Beresenia Walker, September 5, 1934; children: Oliver White Hill, Jr. Education: Howard University, AB, 1931; Howard University School of Law, JD, 1933.

Career : Attorney, Roanoke, Virginia, 1934-36; law practice, Richmond, Virginia, 1939-61; elected to Richmond City Council, 1948-50; worked on Davis vs. County School Board of Prince Edward County (Virginia), one of the five cases the Supreme Court combined into their 1954 decision of Brown vs. Board of Education, 1951-54; named to committee on government contract compliance, 1952; FHA, assistant to commissioner, 1961-66; partner and founder, Hill, Tucker & Marsh, 1966-1998.

Memberships: NAACP.

Selected awards : Chicago Defender Merit Award, 1948; Howard University Alumni Award, 1950; Omega Man of the Year, Omega Psi Phi, 1957; National Bar Association, Lawyer of the Year, 1959; Judicial Council of National Bar Association, 1979; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Simple Justice Award, 1986; American Bar Association, Pro Bono Publico Award, 1993; The Justice Thurgood Marshall Award, 1994; Oliver Hill Day in Roanoke, VA, 1995; Oliver Hill Courts Building in Richmond, VA, 1996; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1999; NAACP, Springarn Award, 2005; University of Richmond Law School, Oliver W. Hill Social Justice Award, 2007.

"Two or three of us, including Thurgood Marshall, wanted to do something about segregation from the get-go in the 1930s," Hill recalled at the Brown symposium. "We had to educate judges and the white and black public as to what we were trying to do…. We were careful with our cases. We never carried a case to the Supreme Court that we didn't have well documented. Anything weak, we passed aside." The Brown decision, which integrated public schools throughout the United States, was a landmark case that helped to set the civil rights movement in motion. In overturning Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that education was an essential element of modern life and that the doctrine of "separate but equal" was unconstitutional. Hill and his colleagues then went to work implementing the Court's decision, which was a difficult task because the state of Virginia had taken steps to dismantle the public school system rather than desegregate. Hill again took to the courtroom to ensure that the state's public school system would remain intact and become integrated. Forty years later, on the occasion of Hill's acceptance of the Marshall Award, James E. Coleman, Jr. of the American Bar Association remarked, "By using the courts, rather than physical resistance, to fight desegregation, Virginia made civil rights lawyers' work much more difficult….If the state's strategy had succeeded, desegregation would have taken much longer."

Devoted Life to Vision of Equality

Following his efforts to desegregate Virginia's public schools, Hill returned to private practice and established the law firm of Hill, Tucker & Marsh in 1966. He continued to work for civil rights causes throughout his career. In 1994, 40 years after the Brown decision, Hill lamented the state of race relations in America in a Human Rights interview, "I can't understand why Americans are willing to send their children—black and white—to foreign lands to fight, and sometimes die, to preserve the American concepts of freedom, democracy, and civil rights when at the same time these same Americans are unwilling to undergo an occasional inconvenience or suffer a slight financial loss to help break down racial barriers and racial discrimination in this country."

He actively continued his quest for civil rights until retiring in 1998. For his lifelong commitment to civil rights, Hill received numerous honors. In 1999 President Bill Clinton recognized Hill's tremendous achievements and service to the country by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The NAACP presented Hill with its highest honor, the Springarn Award, in 2005. On his 100th birthday, Hill was awarded the first Oliver W. Hill Social Justice Award from the University of Richmond Law School. Hill died on August 5, 2007. Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine honored Hill by ordering flags lowered to half-staff throughout the state and that his body would lie in state with a public memorial service to celebrate his life. A memorial featuring Hill among the students of Farmville, whom he helped during their historic case of 1951, was scheduled to be placed on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond in 2008. At Hill's memorial service, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sen. Henry L. Marsh III praised the work of his former colleague, adding "We must keep his vision alive."

Sources

Books

Govenar, Alan, Untold Glory: African Americans in Pursuit of Freedom, Opportunity, and Achievement, Harlem Moon/Broadway Books, 2007.

Periodicals

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 6, 2007, p. B6.

Human Rights, Spring 1994, p. 12; Summer 1994, p. 6.

Life, September 27, 1948, p. 47.

New Republic, April 9, 1951, p. 7.

Newsday, August 6, 2007, p. A38.

New York Times, August 7, 1947, p. 23; June 10, 1948, p. 16; June 12, 1948, p. 14; October 1, 1948, p. 22; June 15, 1950, p. 27; January 11, 1952, p. 13; August 11, 1955, p. 43.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 6, 2007, p. A1, A6.

Washington Post, August 7, 2007, p. A12.

Virginian Pilot, August 13, 2007, p. A1.

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"Hill, Oliver W.." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hill, Oliver W.." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hill-oliver-w

"Hill, Oliver W.." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hill-oliver-w

Hill, Oliver W. 1907–

Oliver W. Hill 1907

Attorney

Attended Law School

Elected to Richmond City Council

Involved in Landmark Court Case

Sources

Oliver Hill was still a young man when he realized that the most effective way to achieve an equal footing for African Americans was through the legal system. He went to law school and blazed a trail virtually unparalleled in the history of the civil rights movement. In 1948, Hill became the first African American elected to the Richmond City Council since Reconstruction. Oliver Hill is one of the pioneer civil rights lawyers of our age, Ronald L. Plesser said in 1994. Plesser, the section chair of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities, was announcing Hills selection as the recipient of that years Thurgood Marshall award from the American Bar Association. His lifetime commitment to achieving equal rights through law positively affected the direction of the entire nation at a crucial time in our history.

Born Oliver White Hill in Richmond, Virginia in 1907, Hill had an early fascination with the role of law in society as it related to African Americans. While at Howard University, he and other students realized there was no hope of attaining equal rights through the U.S. Congress. That branch of government clung to the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson, a case that stated that the provision of separate but equal facilities for African Americans did not violate the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments, amendments which outlawed slavery after the Civil War.

Attended Law School

The Plessy vs. Ferguson decision led to the creation of Jim Crow laws, which institutionalized racial separation in schools, public facilities and transportation. So our only hope was to go back through the courts and get the courts to reinterpret and correct the mistake made in 1896, Hill said at a program celebrating the 40th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, and excerpted in Human Rights. And that is the reason I went to law school. While attending the Howard University School of Law, Hill became friends with a fellow student, Thurgood Marshall, who would become the lead attorney in the Brown case and a future Supreme Court Justice.

Hill began his law practice in 1934 and was one of the few African American lawyers in the South. Many of his cases were race related, and Hill was involved in litigation

At a Glance

Born Oliver White Hill on May 1, 1907 in Rich mond, VA; son of Olivia Lewis White-Hill and William Henry White II; married Beresenia Walker, September 5, 1934; children: Oliver White Hill, Jr. Education: Howard University, AB, 1931; Howard University School of Law, JD, 1933.

Career: Attorney, Roanoke, Virginia, 193436; law practice, Richmond, Virginia, 193961; elected to Richmond City Council, 194850; worked on Davis vs. County School Board of Prince Edward County (Virginia), one of the five cases the Supreme Court combined into their 1954 decision of Brown vs. Board of Education, 195154; named to committee on government contract compliance, 1952; FHA, assistant to commissioner, 196166; partner and founder, Hill, Tucker & Marsh, 1966-.

Selected awards: Chicago Defender Merit Award, 1948; Howard University Alumni Award, 1950; Omega Man of the Year, Omega Psi Phi, 1957; National Bar Association, Lawyer of the Year, 1959; Judicial Council of National Barr Association, 1979; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, The Simple Justice Award, 1986; The Justice Thurgood Marshall Award, 1994; Oliver Hill Day in Roanoke, VA, 1995; Oliver Hill Courts Building in Richmond, VA, 1996.

Addresses: Home 3108 Noble Ave., Richmond, VA 23222.

involving voting rights and equal access to housing and public facilities. In 1947 Hill ran for the Virginia House of Delegates, the lone African American in a field of 18 candidates seeking seven seats. Hill fell 190 votes short. Had he been nominated and then elected in November, the New York Times reported at the time, Mr. Hill would have been the first [black] to occupy a seat in the General Assembly since the session of 18891890.

Elected to Richmond City Council

The following year Hill sought political office again, this time as a candidate for the Richmond City Council. Hills quest was successful and he became the first African American to be elected in Richmond in 52 years. Hill placed ninth in a field of 29 candidates for nine vacant seats and finished ahead of some white candidates. In a New York Times editorial, the election was hailed as a good omen for the South. The article continued, That the candidate is an educated person and a young man is especially important, for from the age of thirty-one, he can look forward to long years of service to his people and to his community as a whole.

In 1950, Hill lost his bid for reelection to the Richmond City Council and returned to his private law practice. In 1951 another council member resigned to take a job outside of Richmond, and the all-white council had to decide who would replace him. Hill was mentioned as a possible replacement, but his increasingly outspoken views against segregation had sparked opposition within the council and the white community. In a move that angered Richmonds 40,000 African Americans, the council chose a former white council member to fill the vacant seat.

By this time, Hill was actively assisting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in their lawsuits against the state of Virginia. These lawsuits demanded improved educational facilities for African American children. Hill eventually became the leading attorney in the case of Davis vs. County School Board of Prince Edward County (Virginia), one of five cases that the Supreme Court combined into their 1954 decision of Brown vs. Board of Education. That decision, which overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson, was the culmination of nearly 20 years of hard work.

Involved in Landmark Court Case

Two or three of us, including Thurgood Marshall, wanted to do something about segregation from the get-go in the 1930s, Hill recalled at the Brown symposium. We had to educate judges and the white and black public as to what we were trying to do. We were careful with our cases. We never carried a case to the Supreme Court that we didnt have well documented. Anything weak, we passed aside. The Brown decision, which integrated public schools throughout the United States, was a landmark case that helped to set the civil rights movement in motion. In overturning Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that education was an essential element of modern life and that the doctrine of separate but equal was unconstitutional. Hill and his colleagues then went to work implementing the Courts decision, which was a difficult task because the state of Virginia had taken steps to dismantle the public school system rather than desegregate. Hill again took to the courtroom to ensure that the states public school system would remain intact and become integrated. Forty years later, on the occasion of Hills acceptance of the Marshall Award, James E. Coleman, Jr. of the American Bar Association remarked, By using the courts, rather than physical resistance, to fight desegregation, Virginia made civil rights lawyers work much more difficult. If the states strategy had succeeded, desegregation would have taken much longer.

Following his efforts to desegregate Virginias public schools, Hill returned to private practice and established the law firm of Hill, Tucker & Marsh in 1966. He continued to work for civil rights causes throughout his career. In 1994,40 years after the Brown decision, Hill lamented the state of race relations in America in a Human Rights interview, I cant understand why Americans are willing to send their childrenblack and whiteto foreign lands to fight, and sometimes die, to preserve the American concepts of freedom, democracy, and civil rights when at the same time these same Americans are unwilling to undergo an occasional inconvenience or suffer a slight financial loss to help break down racial barriers and racial discrimination in this country.

Sources

Human Rights, Spring 1994, p. 12; Summer 1994, p. 6.

Life, September 27, 1948, p. 47.

New Republic, April 9, 1951, p. 7.

New York Times, August 7, 1947, p. 23; June 10, 1948, p. 16; June 12, 1948, p. 14; October 1, 1948, p. 22; June 15, 1950, p. 27; January 11, 1952, p. 13; August 11, 1955, p. 43.

Brian Escamilla

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hill, Oliver W. 1907–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hill, Oliver W. 1907–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hill-oliver-w-1907

"Hill, Oliver W. 1907–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hill-oliver-w-1907