"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
-- Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible (KJV)

Saturday, April 08, 2017

The Incredible Life of William T. Coleman Jr.: A Black Man Who Was a Real Hero in the Fields of Law and Politics

There are few lives and careers so massively filled with impressive achievements as the life of William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr., who passed away on March 31, 2017 as the oldest then still living former Cabinet member.

Just read the obituary of William T. Coleman Jr. by Dennis Hevesi at the New York Times.

Coleman's life is celebrated at the Paul, Weiss Alumni Network at LinkedIn -- of which I am a member as a former Paul, Weiss associate -- via Brian Sogol, Alumni Manager at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, who quotes current Paul, Weiss Chairman Brad Karp as follows:

Bill graduated #1 from Harvard Law School in 1946, served as the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review, and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter (alongside Eliot Richardson).

Bill tried to land a law firm associate position in his home town of Philadelphia, but was rejected by every law firm at which he interviewed. Through a serendipitous encounter with then-Paul, Weiss associate (and later a respected federal district judge and dean of both Yale Law School and Penn Law School) Louis Pollack, Bill was introduced to Louis Weiss, interviewed at Paul, Weiss and was offered a litigation associate position. Bill commuted daily from Philadelphia to Paul, Weiss's New York office for three years (1949-1952). While at Paul, Weiss, Bill worked with Thurgood Marshall on the historic Brown v Board of Education matter, ultimately leaving the firm to join the NAACP to fight full time for racial justice. Bill spent the next 65 years breaking down barrier upon barrier.


Hevesi at the New York Times writes about Coleman inter alia as follows:

"His memoir, “Counsel for the Situation,” was written with Mr. Bliss and had a foreword by Justice Stephen Breyer. In it, Mr. Coleman reflected on his own life and on the American legal system, and paid tribute to the people who had influenced him — blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats.

“They shared the strong conviction,” he wrote, “that individual talent, brilliance and effort can and will change the course of history.
”" [emphasis added by LawPundit]

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As noted in an April 3, 2017 correction at the New York Times to set the "small detail" facts exactly straight: "An earlier version of this obituary misstated the year Mr. Coleman graduated from Harvard Law School. It was 1946, not 1947. It also attributed a distinction to him erroneously. He was not the first black member of the Harvard Law Review; Charles Hamilton Houston had served on the board in the early 20th century. And the branch of the service that Mr. Coleman joined was rendered incorrectly. It was the Army Air Forces, not the Army Air Corps.