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William T. Coleman, Jr.

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Information about William T. Coleman, Jr.

Profile image of William T. Coleman, Jr.

Profession

Category:
LawMakers
PoliticalMakers
Occupation(s):
Corporate Lawyer
Presidential Secretary

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Dark Blue
Favorite Food:
Wife's Cooking
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Vermont
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
7/7/1920
Birth Location:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Profession

Category:
LawMakers
PoliticalMakers
Occupation(s):
Corporate Lawyer
Presidential Secretary

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Dark Blue
Favorite Food:
Wife's Cooking
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Vermont
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
7/7/1920
Birth Location:
Philadelphia
See how William T. Coleman, Jr. is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr., was the first African American to clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court justice, served as secretary of transportation under the Ford administration, and helped try numerous important civil rights cases. He was born on July 7, 1920, in the Germantown district of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to William Thaddeus and Laura Beatrice Mason Coleman. Coleman’s father was a director of the Germantown boys club for forty years, and as a result, Coleman met many African American notables at an early age, including W.E.B. DuBois. After attending an all-black segregated elementary school, Coleman attended the mostly-white Germantown High School. After high school, Coleman attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated summa cum laude with his B.A. degree in 1941. Eager to work in law ever since childhood, Coleman attended Harvard Law School later that year. In 1943, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. As defense counsel for eighteen courts-martial, he won acquittals for sixteen. He returned to Harvard Law School after the war.

In 1946, Coleman received his L.L.B. degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, after becoming the first African American man to serve on the board of editors of the Harvard Law Review. He was a Langdell fellow, and was therefore permitted to stay at Harvard Law School to study for an extra year. In 1947, he was admitted to the bar and obtained a job working as a law clerk with Judge Herbert F. Goodrich of the Third Circuit’s U.S. Court of Appeals. The following year, he became U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter’s law clerk, and as such, he was the first African American to clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1949, Coleman joined Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison, a noted New York law firm, where he met Thurgood Marshall and worked pro bono to assist Marshall with NAACP cases. In 1952, Coleman became the first African American to join an all-white firm, and in 1966, he became partner at Dilworth, Paxon, Kalish, Levy and Coleman. Coleman worked in the Civil Rights Movement throughout the 1950s, including five cases for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) cases that led directly to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. He also served as co-counsel for McLaughlin v. Florida, a case that decided the constitutionality of interracial marriages.

In 1959, President Eisenhower convinced Coleman to work on the President’s commission on employment policy; Coleman continued to work in presidential commissions for Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, including the Warren commission’s investigation of Kennedy’s assassination. In 1971, Coleman was elected president of the NAACP-LDF. In 1975, Coleman was appointed President Gerald Ford's Secretary of Transportation, becoming only the second African American to hold a cabinet-level position. During his tenure, he created the first Statement of National Transportation Policy in U.S. history. When Carter became president in 1976, Coleman returned to the private sector, becoming a senior partner of the Los Angeles-based O’Melveny & Myers law firm. In 1995, Coleman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to the legal profession and to society.

Coleman passed away on March 31, 2017 at the age of 96.

See how William T. Coleman, Jr. is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr.'s interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes how his parents met
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his siblings and the origins of his name
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr, describes his early racial identity
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his family traditions
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his early education
  • Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his reading disability
  • Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about his family's history
  • Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his early aspiration to become a lawyer
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers his early interest in civil rights
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the Quaker philosophy
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his high school experiences
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers his friends from high school
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his high school influences and mentors
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his decision to attend the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls his initial experiences at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about attending an integrated university
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers his classmate from University of Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls joining Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
  • Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his impressions upon leaving University of Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers his motivation to pursue a law career
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the influence of politics in his early life
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls his decision to attend Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his experience at Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls his U.S. Army Air Corps pilot training
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers the U.S. Army Air Corps
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls his experience of discrimination in the U.S. military
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers meeting Thurgood Marshall
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his wife, Lovida Hardin Coleman, Jr.
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls his return to Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his friendship with Elliot Lee Richardson
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his role on the Harvard Law Review while at law school
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about Charles Hamilton Houston and William H. Hastie
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his interest in jurisprudence
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his classes at Harvard Law School
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls the debates at the Harvard Law Review
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers his early legal career
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls being the first black clerk to a U.S. Supreme Court justice
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers his clerkship under Felix Frankfurter
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes Justice Felix Frankfurter
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the United States Supreme Court
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers segregation in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his position at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls his experience at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls working on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Mr. William Coleman, Jr. reflects upon his involvement in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the research for Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls the attorneys involved in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the roles involved in winning a legal case
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the cases consolidated into Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls the arguments of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his relationship with Thurgood Marshall
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the impact of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about the language of deliberate speed in integration
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls being hired at Dilworth, Paxon, Kalish, and Levy
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers Dilworth, Paxon, Kalish and Levy
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his clients at Dilworth, Paxon, Kalish, Levy and Coleman
  • Tape: 6 Story: 10 - William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers the Girard College desegregation case
  • Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about his corporate board involvement
  • Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his casework at Dilworth, Paxson, Kalish and Levy
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his role in the Warren Commission, pt. 1
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his role in the Warren Commission, pt. 2
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls Thurgood Marshall's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about the Watergate Scandal
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about his wife
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his appointment to the Department of Transportation
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about President Richard Milhous Nixon
  • Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about President Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr.
  • Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his leadership of the U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls the busing crisis in Boston, Massachusetts
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his aspirations as U.S. Secretary of the Department of Transportation
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. recalls joining the board of International Business Machines Corporation
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. remembers joining O'Melveny and Meyers LLP
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the clients and counsel at O'Melveny and Meyers LLP
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about law firm branches in Washington, D.C.
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his career at O'Melveny and Meyers LLP
  • Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about the impact of globalization on law
  • Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the importance of business education for lawyers, pt. 1
  • Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about legal education
  • Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes the importance of business education for lawyers, pt. 2
  • Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about education in the African American community
  • Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. reflects upon integration
  • Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about President William Jefferson Clinton
  • Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. describes his children
  • Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. talks about his autobiography
  • Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. reflects upon his legacy and how he would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Mr. William T. Coleman, Jr. narrates his photographs