R.I.P. William T. Coleman Jr., 96, Who Broke Racial Barriers in Supreme Court and White House Cabinet

William T. Coleman Jr., then the secretary of transportation, testified in 1976 before a Senate subcommittee. (Credit: Harvey Georges/Associated Press)

article by  via nytimes.com

William T. Coleman Jr., who championed the cause of civil rights in milestone cases before the Supreme Court and who rose above racial barriers himself as an influential lawyer and as a cabinet secretary, died Friday at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 96.

His death was confirmed by a spokeswoman for the international law firm O’Melveny & Myers, where Mr. Coleman was a senior partner in its Washington office. He lived at a care facility with his wife of more than 70 years, Lovida Coleman. A lifelong Republican, Mr. Coleman was as comfortable in the boardrooms of powerful corporations — PepsiCo, IBM, Chase Manhattan Bank — as he was in the halls of government.

He was the second African-American to serve in a White House cabinet, heading the Department of Transportation. Mr. Coleman found success on the heels of a brilliant academic career, but he did so in the face of bigotry — what he called “the more subtle brand of Yankee racism” — from which his middle-class upbringing in Philadelphia did not shield him. In one episode, his high school disbanded its all-white swimming team rather than let him join it.

Those experiences would inform his efforts in three major civil rights cases before the United States Supreme Court. In one, Mr. Coleman, recruited by Thurgood Marshall, was an author of the legal briefs that successfully pressed the court to outlaw segregation in public schools in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Ten years later, he argued a case that led to a Supreme Court decision establishing the constitutionality of racially mixed sexual relations and cohabitation. (McLaughlin v. Florida, in which the Supreme Court overturned a Florida law that prohibited an interracial couple from living together under the state’s anti-miscegenation statutes.) And in 1982, he argued that segregated private schools should be barred from receiving federal tax exemptions. The court agreed.

Mr. Coleman was appointed transportation secretary by President Gerald R. Ford in March 1975, a little more than six months after Ford, who had been vice president, succeeded President Richard M. Nixon after Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate affair. Mr. Coleman, a corporate lawyer with expertise in transportation issues, was on the Pan Am board of directors at the time.

To read full article, go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/us/politics/william-coleman-jr-dies.html?_r=0

3 thoughts on “R.I.P. William T. Coleman Jr., 96, Who Broke Racial Barriers in Supreme Court and White House Cabinet

  1. Pingback: R.I.P. William T. Coleman Jr., 96, Who Broke Racial Barriers in Supreme Court and White House Cabinet – biblebeltsite

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