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A. Dwight Pettit

Alvin Dwight Pettit was born on September 29, 1945, in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. His mother worked as a beautician and his father worked as an engineer. His family migrated to Baltimore after his father was offered an engineering job in Maryland. In 1958, his father initiated a lawsuit against Harford County, Maryland school officials, forcing the school system to integrate the all white Aberdeen High School. Pettit, represented by Thurgood Marshall, won his suit and was admitted to Aberdeen and graduated in 1963. In addition to being the first African American male to attend the school, he also integrated the football team.

Pettit attended Howard University from 1963 until 1967, where he earned his bachelor’s of arts degree. While at Howard, Pettit played football, participated in the ROTC program, reaching the rank of colonel and pledged Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. While at Howard, he received the Holland Ware award for the student athlete demonstrating all around athletic and academic ability. Pettit earned his law degree from Howard in 1970.

In 1970, Pettit began his career as a trial attorney for the Small Business Administration under President Richard Nixon. His duties included preparing briefs for the Department of Justice on fraud cases involving SBA loans. He litigated his first private case, Pettit vs. the United States. The case received national acclaim and is considered a landmark decision, setting the standard for back pay awards in discrimination cases. In 1973, Petit brought the first suit in the country against Maryland for discrimination in the bar examination. The case would lead to other states changing its testing practices. In 1973, Petit left the SBA and formed Mitchell, Petit, David and Gill and later his own practice.

Pettit handled many high profile criminal and personal injury cases. In 1977, he won Scott v. Sutton Place, which determined that Maryland landlords have responsibility and are liable for criminal activity on their property. In 1983, he won his first million-dollar judgment against the Washington, D.C. Transit Authority in the accident case, Goodwin v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation. Pettit continues to practice law in Baltimore, where he resides with his wife, Barbara.

Accession Number

A2004.144

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/25/2004

Last Name

Pettit

Maker Category
Middle Name

Dwight

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Aberdeen High

Howard University School of Law

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical Nursery School

Fleming Elementary School

Bragg School

Havre De Grace Middle

Lemmel Junior High School

Howard University

First Name

A.

Birth City, State, Country

Rutherfordton

HM ID

PET04

Favorite Season

Spring

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Islands

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/29/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Pork Chops

Short Description

Trial lawyer A. Dwight Pettit (1945 - ) is one of the most prominent criminal and personal injury attorneys in Maryland. Pettit is responsible for bringing the first suit in the country against Maryland for discriminatory practices in the bar examination, which lead to other states changing their testing practices.

Employment

Small Business Administration

Mitchell, Petit, David & Gill

National Democratic Compliance Commission

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of A. Dwight Pettit's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - A. Dwight Pettit lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his paternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - A. Dwight Pettit talks about his maternal and paternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - A. Dwight Pettit recalls his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his father's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his paternal aunt, Dorothy Mae

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - A. Dwight Pettit explains his family's move to Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - A. Dwight Pettit recalls holiday celebrations during his childhood in Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - A. Dwight Pettit remembers his childhood in Turner Station, Dundalk, Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - A. Dwight Pettit describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his paternal family's educational, military and career achievements

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - A. Dwight Pettit recalls the challenges of growing up an only child and dealing with his father's alcoholism

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - A. Dwight Pettit remembers attending Fleming Elementary School in Turner Station, Maryland and Bragg School in Sparrows Point, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his home and family life while attending elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - A. Dwight Pettit talks about his extracurricular activities and hobbies at Sollers Point High School in Sparrows Point, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his family's move to Aberdeen, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - A. Dwight Pettit describes boarding with another family while attending Lemmel Junior High School in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - A. Dwight Pettit explains the origin of his early interest in law

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - A. Dwight Pettit explains his family's decision to send him to the segregated Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - A. Dwight Pettit describes the trial to integrate Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - A. Dwight Pettit explains the case law influencing the judicial decision to integrate Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - A. Dwight Pettit describes Thurgood Marshall and Juanita Jackson Mitchell, who represented him in the case to integrate Aberdeen High School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - A. Dwight Pettit remembers his principal at Havre de Grace Middle School in Havre de Grace, Maryland testifying against him in court

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - A. Dwight Pettit recalls racist encounters when he first entered Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his experience playing football at Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - A. Dwight Pettit explains his decision to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - A. Dwight Pettit recalls his initial impression of Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - A. Dwight Pettit talks about challenging courses and professors at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his experience at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - A. Dwight Pettit recalls his first job with the U.S. Small Business Administration after graduating from Howard University School of Law

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - A. Dwight Pettit describes working as trial attorney on the national litigation staff for the U.S. Small Business Administration

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - A. Dwight Pettit recounts filing an anti-discrimination suit against the Maryland State Bar Association

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - A. Dwight Pettit recounts representing his father in the civil rights lawsuit, Pettit v. United States, 1973

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - A. Dwight Pettit explains why he was deferred from U.S. military service

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - A. Dwight Pettit remembers winning Pettit v. United States, 1973

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - A. Dwight Pettit recalls memorable cases from his private law practice in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - A. Dwight Pettit recalls his initial involvement with President James "Jimmy" Carter's 1976 presidential campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - A. Dwight Pettit explains how losing the nomination to U.S. attorney for Maryland led him into corporate law

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - A. Dwight Pettit describes his work with HistoryMaker Reverend Jesse L. Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - A. Dwight Pettit talks about Kweisi Mfume's 1986 campaign for U.S. Congress

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - A. Dwight Pettit talks about why he lost his 1986 campaign for U.S. Congress to Kweisi Mfume

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - A. Dwight Pettit talks about why he lost a Baltimore City Council election to Elijah Cummings

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - A. Dwight Pettit remembers litigating police shooting and brutality cases in the 1980s and 1990s

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - A. Dwight Pettit explains why he supported Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. during the 2002 Maryland gubernatorial campaign

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - A. Dwight Pettit talks about his relationship with Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - A. Dwight Pettit talks about his experience campaigning for Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. during the 2002 Maryland gubernatorial campaign

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - A. Dwight Pettit explains why he believes Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost the 2002 Maryland gubernatorial election

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - A. Dwight Pettit reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - A. Dwight Pettit talks about his hopes for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - A. Dwight Pettit narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - A. Dwight Pettit narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

10$2

DATitle
A. Dwight Pettit describes the trial to integrate Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, Maryland
A. Dwight Pettit describes working as trial attorney on the national litigation staff for the U.S. Small Business Administration
Transcript
(Simultaneous) Aberdeen [Maryland] is in Harford County [Maryland].$$Yes, so that's what brings in Thurgood Marshall, 'cause Thurgood is very upset at this point in time that Maryland is still trying to implement Brown [v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954], that he was very much a part of, and Jack Greenberg of the [NAACP] Legal Defense Fund, as I said, and Tucker Dearing, who was a local (unclear), so they bring the case, they put the case together and they bring the case in the U.S. Federal District Court here. Well, lo and behold, when the case hits the newspapers and everything, "Retarded child being put in white school," because of defense of the state, and the [Maryland State] Board [of Education], the superintendent and school board [Board of Education of Harford County], they go back to these old tests back in the fourth and beginning of the fifth grade, before this academic discovery, and they argue that I'm academically unqualified and they want to protect me from having to compete with white students, that it would be not in my interest because the court says you have to discriminate, but the court said "With all deliberate speed," the United States Supreme Court, so they gave the latitude, and this has become very historical, of different states to break up to manifest and create their own discrimination procedures, or integration procedures. So, what Harford County has done is put into place is a stair step integration system, where they are integrating a year at a time, but the problem is I'm ahead of this system. When they integrated the seventh, I would have been in the eighth, eighth, I'd have been in the ninth, and so the year that I applied, they did admit African Americans, but they admitted three African American females. They didn't, they would not allow the two, I think it was another African American male. So, they denied my admission, and then they based that denial on my inadequacies as a student and argued that the IQ test and achievement tests that I had taken back years before, that I was not qualified, though should not be allowed to be threatened academically in the competition with white students. Well, this was devastating to a kid. You know, you're walking around, even in [William H.] Lemmel [Junior High School, Baltimore, Maryland] and everybody's, are you the kid, are you the stupid kid (laughter), and the teachers, some of 'em, but you know, I had great teachers and Lemmel and one of 'em is still alive, Mr. [Ray] Carpenter. He was my homeroom teacher, so when I walked in he says, tells the kids, "Well, we have a star in class. We have a media star and we're happy 'cause it's all over the papers," and I think it was in the Washington Times and the New York Times, Washington Post, what-have-you, that this major integration battle is going on." Well, the kids loved me instantly, if I can use that word. They elected me chief judge of the school court, they elected me president of the class, because they immediately, the teachers and everybody, began to read automatically that this was a sham, what was in the newspapers.$$Because they knew what you could achieve academically.$$Well, they discovered me right away. In fact, my homeroom teacher, Mr. Carpenter, I mean if I was a minute late, it was like, "[HistoryMaker] Mr. [A. Dwight] Pettit, you are such a celebrity and we read about you, why don't you stand up and give us the Gettysburg Address?" Or, stand up and give us volume so-and-so of [William] Shakespeare. And I was always able to perform, 'cause now I'm into it. Now, I've got to prove something to me, I've got to prove something to the world. Here I'm in the newspapers where my whole life is being called into question, and so now it's not just my father [George Pettit] telling me that I've got to produce, now I'm getting to the realization of adulthood, moving toward as a young teenager, that I've got to prove myself and may have to prove myself over and over, and have to prove myself in a court of law.$And what were some of your responsibilities there [U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Washington, D.C.]?$$Well, here was the thing. All of a sudden, I mean, I had been smart enough to take some corporate courses in my senior year [at Howard University, Washington, D.C.]. I hadn't taken anything. I was a political science major, political science major, psychology minor in undergrad, and I hadn't taken any business courses. I didn't even take legal accounting. That was a struggle because when I was in law school [Howard University School of Law, Washington, D.C.], the kids had already taken legal accounting. They threw the accounting book out and said we're going to talk about law. If you don't know accounting, go home and learn it. (Laughter) So, but fortunately my senior year, I had taken a national law, labor relations, I had taken everything, I knew my weakness. So, I had taken everything that I could in terms of electives in terms of the financial area. And sure as it would be, I'm thrown directly into heavy-duty, white-collar litigation and research. What we would, what we did, we would prepare the briefs and do all the gut and grunt work for the [U.S.] Department of Justice in terms of major fraud cases with banks and SBA loans as well as when I went to the local office, I would be involved in loan lending, bonding issues and what-have-you. So, all of a sudden, I'm hired and Mr. [Bob] Webber told me, he said, "You know, [HistoryMaker A.] Dwight [Pettit], I don't believe in affirmative action. You don't live up. You're out of here, but I'm gonna hire you because you seem like you're everything that we want and the White House [Washington, D.C.] wants. And, I went into this library and I looked around and I saw the bankruptcy codes, I saw all this finance, I saw the, all the national reporters, I said, "Oh, my God. What have I gotten myself into?" (Laughter) I mean, it was like it was terrifying. I'll never forget the sweat. I could remember the sweat just dropping off. I had this one white Jewish kid, Eric Benson [ph.]. He kept looking me and looking at me and looking at me, and I'm trying to look intelligent. It was my first day on the job. I'm trying to--Uniform Commercial Code, I had never seen commercial code (Laughter) So, he came over and he said, "Dwight, c'mon, let's go to lunch." And he said, "Look man, calm down." He said, "I went through the same thing that you went through." He said, "If I can do anything to help you, I will", and so he and I became so tight; in fact, Mr. Webber, it became a fun thing up at the office, because we had about three black secretaries and they were urging and they were pushing for me so much. They were just hoping that I was the real deal. And so, when I first got there, I noticed how Mr. Webber, if something came from the White House, [U.S.] Congress, or if it was an emergency or justice department [U.S. Department of Justice], the first person he would buzz was Eric, and before I left, I know he must have had a staff of about, I guess sixty lawyers were there, but before I left, you'd always hear the buzzer go off twice, Eric's office and my office whenever an emergency came up, so I felt that I had really proved myself--