MMHMF Honoree

2004 Community Service Award

Oliver White Hill, one of America’s premier civil rights attorneys, died in his home on August 5, 2007. He was 100 years old.

Mr. Hill was born in Richmond on May 1, 1907 and moved to Roanoke, VA, and then to Washington, DC with his family. He graduated from Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School and Howard University. He was a close friend of the late Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, finishing second to him at Howard University Law School in 1933.

As an attorney, Mr. Hill won cases such as equalizing the salaries of Black teachers in Norfolk, VA, and helping Black students protest their sub-standard school in Farmville, VA. The Farmville case, Davis vs. County School Board of Prince Edward County, became one of the five adjunct cases to Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in public schools in 1954. At one time, Mr. Hill was working on 75 cases fighting racial practices in Virginia.

In 1948, Mr. Hill made national news when he was elected to the Richmond City Council, the first Black since Reconstruction to do so. It would be years before another Black would serve on that body.

A courageous civil rights advocate, Mr. Hill was constantly threatened with obscene phone calls made to his home and a cross was burned on his front lawn. He remained steadfast in his convictions and commitment to change the status quo. It was his superior legal skills and total dedication to making a difference in the face of death threats that set him apart. Mr. Hill worked closely with the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to fight for civil rights. He worked in his own law firm, Hill, Tucker and Marsh, until he retired in 1998.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Hill the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest honor. In 2000, he received the American Bar Association Medal, the organization’s highest honor. In Richmond, a bronze bust of Mr. Hill’s likeness is in the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.

We owe him a great debt of gratitude for paving the way for us to have all the opportunities we have today. It is up to each of us to assume responsibility for carrying on Mr. Hill’s legacy and spirit by taking advantage of opportunities before us and by helping others to do the same. MMHMF is committed to building on his accomplishments.

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