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'Explorations In Black Leadership' Aims To Preserve Lessons Taught By Key Civil Rights Figures

September 6 , 2000 -- It has been nearly 50 years since the Supreme Courtıs 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas outlawed racial segregation in public schools and helped to usher in an era of social transformation. In the years that followed, many leaders emerged from the black community ­ locally, regionally and nationally ­ to reshape American society during what has become known as the civil rights era.

"Explorations in Black Leadership," a new oral history project co-sponsored by the University of Virginiaıs Institute for Public History and the Darden School of Graduate Business Administration, is reaching back to examine the nature of that leadership. The project will bring key civil rights figures to Charlottesville over the new few years, where they will participate in public forums and two-hour videotaped interviews conducted by U.Va. history professor Julian Bond, who is himself a long-time civil rights leader and national chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The first visits of the series, featuring Virginia noted civil rights lawyers Oliver Hill and Henry Marsh, will take place Sept. 13 and 14, and will include a public forum Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Law Schoolıs Caplin Auditorium. The session, during which Bond, law professor Michael Klarman and audience members will ask questions, is free and open to the public.

Bond, who served for many years in the Georgia legislature, said "Explorations in Black Leadership" is unique in its ambition.

"I am not aware of any similar project whose reach is as broad," he said. "There are projects with a more narrow focus, but none I know of with this reach.

"This project represents an attempt to examine the lives and achievements of a wide variety of black leadership ­ in education, civil rights, business ­ and to try to determine from in-depth study the forces which shaped them. It promises to give us invaluable resources that will be useful for generations yet to come."

The project has two key objectives, said Phyllis Leffler, history professor and director of the Institute for Public History.

The most obvious aspect is to preserve the history of the era, expanding the historic record. Oliver Hill, who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, is now 93. "We think he has a fascinating story to tell," Leffler said. "He got involved, and took the risks necessary that a black man had to take to enter the bar in Virginia.

"You have to understand the impact these people have had in American society."

Beyond preserving history, though, is the inquiry into the nature of leadership itself. "A lot of people wonder what has happened to our leaders, black and non-black, in America," Leffler said.

The study will seek answers to many questions. What have been the criteria that allowed some African-Americans to rise to the top of their professions? What qualities have contributed to their success? How do people become leaders, and what constitutes effective leadership?

Beyond sociological and political considerations, those questions also are of increasing importance in the business world of shifting demographics.

Darden School dean Edward A. Snyder made the decision to co-sponsor the program "in a microsecond," he said. "Darden's mission is developing people who create, transform and lead successful organizations. To do that effectively, you have to understand the power of compelling ideas, the endurance of strong convictions and the high price of courage.

"Each of the principals in this series, by personifying these ideals, advances the Darden mission."

The archives and tapes of the series will be useful to scholars, businesses, communities and public schools, and could form the basis for new courses at the University, Leffler said. One possibility is a book project or even a documentary film tied to the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 2004.

Committed for future visits are Elaine Jones, president and director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (Nov. 1); civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers, chancellor of North Carolina Central University (Nov. 8-9); and Mary Futrell, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University and former president of both the Virginia Education Association and National Education Association (Nov. 29-30).

Project organizers are lining up additional guests, and the effort could go on for several years, Leffler said.

Biographical sketches of the first guests scheduled to participate in the "Explorations in Black Leadership" series, who will take part in a public question-and-answer session Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Law Schoolıs Caplin Auditorium:


Oliver White Hill was born in Richmond in 1907. He was an undergraduate at Howard University, when his uncle, who was a lawyer, died. Hillıs aunt gave him her husbandıs law books. "I was a happy-go-lucky sophomore. Then I read the Constitution and the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments and realized that Congress had given us rights which the Supreme Court had taken away from us. I knew right then that I wanted to become a lawyer and end legalized segregation." Under the tutelage of Charles Hamilton Houston, dean of Howard Law School, Hill graduated in 1993, second in his class behind his friend, Thurgood Marshall. His landmark cases involved matters such as desegregation on buses and trains; free bus transportation for black public school children; the right of black citizens to serve on juries and participate in primary elections; and the desegregation of public assembly and of recreational facilities. He served as director of the Virginia chapter of the NAACP for 20 years. During this time, he and a team of 13 lawyers filed more civil rights cases in Virginia than were filed in any other Southern state. His most famous case, Davis v. Prince Edward County Schools, became part of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In 1942, Hill founded the Old Dominion Bar Association. In 1948, he was the first black elected to Richmond City Council since the Reconstruction era. At age 91 he retired from his Richmond law firm, Hill, Tucker and Marsh, after practicing law for nearly 60 years.


As a child, Henry Marsh had to walk five miles each way to a one-room school for black children. At his school, a single teacher instructed 70 students, while whites attended a large, modern school to which they were transported by bus. This experience, in addition to inspiration from his heroes ­ including Oliver Hill, Thurgood Marshall and his father ­ contributed to Marshıs dedication to the struggle for racial justice. He attended Virginia Union University, MORE 4 where he served as president of the student government. He then went on to receive a law degree from Howard University in 1959. After serving in the Army, Marsh began his legal career in May 1961, joining the Richmond firm now known as Hill, Tucker and Marsh. Serving as counsel for the NAACP, he fought Richmondıs segregationist school policies. In 1966, Marsh successfully ran for a seat on the Richmond City Council. On March 1, 1977, Henry Marsh was elected the first African American mayor of Richmond. In this capacity, he led a coalition of five black council members who made historic changes to the city, including the adoption of a human rights ordinance, the appointment of many African Americans to boards and commissions, and the revitalization of downtown Richmond. In 1991, Henry Marsh was elected to the Senate of Virginia for the 16th District and he continues to hold that seat today.

Contact: Carol Wood, (804) 924-7116

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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