A TRIBUTE TO OLIVER WHITE HILL

May 1, 2007
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia:  Madam Speaker, I rise today to celebrate the 100th birthday of Oliver White Hill, who dedicated his life and legal talents to making the City of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and this entire country a place of promise and opportunity for all. Mr. Hill used his legal talents to bravely confront and help eradicate decades of racial inequality and injustice.

Oliver White Hill was born Oliver White in Richmond, Virginia. After his mother remarried, the Hill family moved to Washington, DC, where Oliver White Hill graduated from the legendary Dunbar High School. Mr. Hill went on to earn his undergraduate degree from Howard University, and then attended Howard University's Law School, where, as destiny would have it, he was a classmate, rival in academic achievement, and close friend of Thurgood Marshall. Upon graduating in 1933, second in his class only to the future Supreme Court Justice, Mr. Hill spent his early years as a civil rights attorney in Richmond, Virginia.

It was there that Mr. Hill grudgingly worked within the confines of the separate-but-equal framework of Plessy v. Ferguson, but he fought hard for better pay, full access to transportation, and better educational facilities for African American teachers and students. In fact, in 1940, working with civil rights legal stalwarts Thurgood Marshall, William H. Hastie, and Leon A. Ranson, Mr. Hill won his first of many landmark cases in Alston v. School Board of Norfolk, Va. In Alston, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered equal pay for black and white teachers within Norfolk's school system. Despite the decision, Mr. Hill was not completely satisfied as race barriers remained, and, as he once said, ``I went to law school so I could go out and fight segregation.''

That fight would have to wait. Oliver White Hill joined the Army in 1943 and admirably served his country in the European Theatre in World War II. After a distinguished military career, Mr. Hill immediately began to fight for democracy on a different front--back in the courts against racial discrimination.

Soon after his return, Oliver White Hill won the right for equal transportation for Black school children in the Virginia Supreme Court. But once again, he was not satisfied with this ``separate-but-equal'' victory. The course of history was about to change, however, as Mr. Hill partnered with another civil rights legal legend, Spottswood Robinson III, in 1948.

Together, Mr. Hill and Mr. Robinson brought dozens of civil rights lawsuits against school districts throughout the State of Virginia, with as many as seventy-five (75) cases pending at one time. By some estimates, Mr. Hill and Mr. Robinson brought more lawsuits than the total filed in all the other Southern States during this era.

Despite the burning of a cross in his front yard and despite almost daily threatening telephone calls to his home, Mr. Hill persevered. In 1951, undeterred and emboldened, Oliver White Hill and Spottswood Robinson decided to move beyond ``separate-but-equal'' and attack segregation head-on.

That year, Mr. Hill and Mr. Robinson shouldered the cause of the African American students at the all-black R.R. Morton High School in Farmville, VA, who had walked out of their leaking, poorly heated classroom building. The resulting desegregation lawsuit, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, was one of several cases decided collectively as Brown v. Board of Education by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.

While Oliver White Hill is best known as the fierce, tireless civil rights litigator who helped bring to a close America's segregation-era, his involvement in the community went beyond the courtroom. In 1949, he became the first African American elected to the Richmond City Council since Reconstruction. In the early 1960s, Mr. Hill served as Federal Housing Commissioner in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition to his local and Federal government posts, Mr. Hill served as an officer or member on the boards of many organizations, including the National Legal Committee of the NAACP, the National Bar Association, the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, the Virginia State Bar Bench/Bar Relations Committee, and the Old Dominion Bar Association, which he co-founded.

For his decades of dedication to the law and accomplishments in the field of civil rights, Oliver White Hill has earned many accolades, including the ``Lawyer of the Year Award'' from the National Bar Association in 1959, the ``Simple Justice Award'' from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1986, and the ``Justice Thurgood Marshall Award'' from the American Bar Association in 1993. In 1999, President Clinton awarded Mr. Hill the highest honor the nation can bestow, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A year later Mr. Hill received the American Bar Association Medal, the National Bar Association ``Hero of Law Award,'' and the ``Harvard Medal of Freedom'' for his role in the landmark Brown decision. Most recently, in 2005, Mr. Hill was awarded the NAACP's highest honor, the Springarn Medal.

In 2000, several legal admirers founded the Oliver White Hill Foundation. The Foundation encourages young lawyers to become advocates in the field of individual rights and liberties and to carry on Mr. Hill's civil rights work. Lawyers inspired by the Foundation work with the hope that discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, sexual preference, and religion will ultimately be abolished, just as Mr. Hill has spent his life hoping for and working towards.

Madam Speaker, I offer my congratulations to Oliver White Hill and pay tribute to him for being one of history's most important civil rights legal pioneers.