Roanoke, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
Civil Rights Trailblazers
A. J. Oliver was a 19th century pioneer in law and the first black attorney in Roanoke. Born during the Civil War, he began his legal career in West Virginia as one of the first black attorneys in the state, passing the bar in 1887. After relocating to Roanoke in 1889, he quickly established himself as a community leader, often preaching at St. Paul Methodist Church and joining the Freemasons and Odd Fellows. Oliver spent his life advancing civil rights in Virginia. In 1900, he was a delegate to the Virginia Conference of Colored Men convention in Charlottesville that met to petition the white men of the state for racial equality and justice, especially in education. Two years later, he led a group of black Roanoke citizens objecting to the school board's use of only white teachers in black schools.
Born in 1901 and raised in Northeast Roanoke, Belford Lawson, Jr. was a key national civil rights attorney. As a lawyer in Washington, DC, he cofounded the New Negro Alliance, which actively challenged discrimination
Attorney Reuben Lawson was a decisive legal figure in Virginia's civil rights landscape. He argued the case Ingram v. Virginia in 1946, which addressed the exclusion of blacks as jurors in state cases. He served as an attorney for the NAACP, arguing several school desegregation cases in Southwest Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s. He built the Lawson Law Building, which remains on Gilmer Avenue.
Oliver White Hill was an eminent civil rights lawyer, whose early home at 401 Gilmer Avenue still stands. During his career, he fought the "separate but equal" policies of the segregated South and argued more than 75 segregation cases in the State of Virginia. In the 1940s, his legal accomplishments
Edward R. Dudley was the son of Roanoke's first black dentist and grew up at 405 Gilmer Avenue. After achieving his law degree in 1941, he served as assistant Attorney General in New York. In 1943, he joined the legal staff of the NAACP fighting for blacks to be admitted to Southern universities, equal pay for black teachers, and an end to discrimination in public transportation. In 1948, President Truman appointed him as America's first black ambassador, to the country of Liberia. Later, he was a justice on the Domestic Relations Court for New York City, president of the Manhattan Borough, and a member of the New York City Council, before becoming a justice on the New York State Supreme Court.
The neighborhood also produced four pilots of the "Tuskegee Airmen," a distinguished group of black airmen during World War II. Before
Location. 37° 16.535′ N, 79° 56.376′ W. Marker is in Roanoke, Virginia. Marker is on Wells Avenue Northeast east of North Jefferson Street, on the left when traveling east. Marker is located in a small sidewalk plaza on the north side of Wells Avenue. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Roanoke VA 24016, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Health Care and Medicine (here, next to this marker); Milestones in Education (here, next to this marker); From Frontier to Urban Community... A Gainsboro Prelude Evolution of a Neighborhood Name (here, next to this marker); Social and Cultural Life (here, next to this marker); A Once-Vibrant African American Community (here, next to this marker); The Influence of Churches in Gainsboro (a few steps from this marker); Hotel Roanoke (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Roanoke.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. Gainesborough • Big Lick • Roanoke
Also see . . .
1. Belford Lawson Jr. (Wikipedia). Belford Vance Lawson Jr. was an American attorney and civil rights activist who made at least eight appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was the first African-American man to win a case before the Supreme Court and the first African-American president of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). (Submitted on December 1, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
2. Oliver White Hill. Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, attorney Oliver W. Hill spent more than 60 years in a practice (Submitted on December 1, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
3. Dudley, Edward R. Few career opportunities presented themselves to a young black college graduate in the Depression-era South. For two years Dudley taught first through seventh grades in a one-room schoolhouse for $60 per month, earning an additional $10 for driving the school bus. Through the early 1930s Dudley took odd jobs as a waiter and a bellhop. He also became involved with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Theater project, which aimed to provide work for unemployed actors, playwrights, directors, stage designers, and other theater professionals. Dudley served as stage manager for director Orson Welles, who was then at the beginning of his career. Though Dudley enjoyed the theater, he decided to follow a different career path after the WPA project ended in 1938, and enrolled in law school in Jamaica, New York. (Submitted on December 1, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Categories. African Americans • Civil Rights • Education • War, World II •
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Credits. This page was last revised on December 1, 2019. This page originally submitted on November 27, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 36 times since then and 3 times this year. Photos: 1. submitted on November 28, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. submitted on December 1, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.