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Richard Clayter

Lawyer Richard L. Clayter, Jr. was born on July 28, 1922, in Chicago, Illinois to Richard Clayter, Sr. and Bella Warren. Similar to many African Americans at the time, Clayter’s mother had taken part in the Great Migration of blacks out of the American South. During his childhood, Clayter still maintained ties to traditional African American communities in the South. His earliest memories are from his time in Wiggins, Mississippi. When he was only seven, Clayter experienced the Great Depression. Clayter attended William W. Carter Elementary located in the Washington Park neighborhood of Chicago’s south side. Aside from one year in Tuskegee, Alabama, Clayter attended Englewood High School located on Chicago’s south side. During this time he married his first wife, Mildred Warren, who was an orphan. Clayter graduated from high school in 1941 and soon after joined the U.S. military. His time fighting in World War II for the U.S. military would prove to be a transformative experience for Clayter.

After he returned from his service during the war, Clayter attended DePaul University. He earned his B.A. degree in sociology there in 1950. During this time Clayter married his second wife, Mary Lou Gullatt, and earned his M.A. degree in social work at Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work. At a meeting at his mother’s home, one of the guests pointed at Clayter and said that he looked like a lawyer. The experience left him determined to earn a legal degree. Despite being rejected by the law programs at Northwestern University and DePaul University due to their quotas, Clayter was able to enroll at Loyola University Chicago School of Law after a personal discussion with Dean John C. Fitzgerald. In 1956, Clayter became the first African American to earn his J.D. in the part time program at Loyola University Chicago.

Even after he graduated, Clayter continued to press for African American rights. In 1958, he served as counsel for Charles S. Jackson Company, Inc. in their suit against the Oak Woods Cemetery Association. The funeral association had refused, on the basis of race, to cremate several bodies brought to them by the Jackson Company. Clayter won the suit and effectively integrated the cemetery association’s crematorium. In 1959, he was the only African American in the Short Course for Prosecuting Attorneys at Northwestern University.

The recipient of many awards, Clayter was honored by two organizations with which he has a long history in 2005. He received the Outstanding Sole Practitioner Award from the Center for Disability and Elder Law with personal recognition by Attorney General Lisa Madigan. In March of the same year, Roland Burris presented Clayter with the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Original Forty Club of Chicago. A longtime member of the club of accomplished African American men, Clayter held every position in The Original Forty Club from Secretary to President.

Clayter passed away on July 22, 2013 at the age of 90.

Accession Number

A2010.110

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/11/2010

Last Name

Clayter

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

William W. Carter Elementary School

Englewood High School

DePaul University

Loyola University Chicago

Stone Middle School

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

First Name

Richard

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

CLA17

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Freeport, Bahamas

Favorite Quote

Keep A Roof Over Your Head.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

7/28/1922

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chicken

Death Date

7/22/2013

Short Description

Trial lawyer Richard Clayter (1922 - 2013 ) was the first African American to complete the Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s part-time program. He also argued successfully for the integration of Chicago's Oak Woods Cemetery.

Employment

Illinois School for Boys

Starke and Anglin

Frost, Clayter, Sherard and Howse

Gassaway, Crosson, Turner and Parsons

Rivers, Lockhart, Clayter & Lawrence

Favorite Color

Silver

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Richard Clayter's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Richard Clayter lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Richard Clayter talks about his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Richard Clayter describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Richard Clayter talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Richard Clayter remembers his family's apartments in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Richard Clayter describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Richard Clayter recalls his experiences in Wiggins, Mississippi, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Richard Clayter recalls his experiences in Wiggins, Mississippi, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Richard Clayter recalls his start at Englewood High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Richard Clayter recalls his teachers and activities at Englewood High School

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Richard Clayter describes his early employment

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Richard Clayter talks about his first marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Richard Clayter recalls being drafted into the U.S. Army

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Richard Clayter remembers his U.S. Army training

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Richard Clayter remembers his combat flashbacks

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Richard Clayter talks about his U.S. Army service in World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Richard Clayter talks about divorcing his first wife

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Richard Clayter remembers DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Richard Clayter describes his early experiences in social work

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Richard Clayter talks about his second marriage

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Richard Clayter remembers the Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Richard Clayter lists his children

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Richard Clayter describes his early law career

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Richard Clayter remembers the African American attorneys in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Richard Clayter talks about the Cook County Bar Association

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Richard Clayter recalls the start of the Oak Woods Cemetery desegregation case

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Richard Clayter lists the attorneys involved in the Oak Woods Cemetery desegregation case

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Richard Clayter describes the Oak Woods Cemetery desegregation case

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Richard Clayter talks about aversion to criminal law

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Richard Clayter remembers the African American judges in Cook County, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Richard Clayter describes his experiences of racial discrimination in the judicial system

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Richard Clayter recalls joining the law firm of Gassaway, Crosson, Turner and Parsons

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Richard Clayter describes his law career in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Richard Clayter remembers George N. Leighton and R. Eugene Pincham

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Richard Clayter describes his law career in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Richard Clayter talks about his working relationship with Wilson Frost, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Richard Clayter talks about his working relationship with Wilson Frost, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Richard Clayter lists the law firms where he worked in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Richard Clayter talks about the judicial appointment process in Cook County, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Richard Clayter talks about representing community organizations

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Richard Clayter describes his involvement in the Original 40 Club

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Richard Clayter talks about his friendship with James Weinstein

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Richard Clayter remembers the case of Friendship Medical Center, Ltd. v. Chicago Board of Health

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Richard Clayter remembers Mayor Harold Washington

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Richard Clayter talks about his memorable court cases, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Richard Clayter recalls securing a reduced sentence for a client

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Richard Clayter remembers applying to become a federal parole officer

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Richard Clayter describes his advice to aspiring lawyers

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Richard Clayter talks about his memorable court cases, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Richard Clayter reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Richard Clayter talks about his religious affiliation

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Richard Clayter describes his hopes for the world

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Richard Clayter shares a message to his children

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Richard Clayter reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Richard Clayter narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Richard Clayter narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

7$2

DATitle
Richard Clayter describes his early law career
Richard Clayter describes the Oak Woods Cemetery desegregation case
Transcript
Now you just graduated from law school [Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Chicago, Illinois], what was your first job?$$My first job was, the firm was Starke and Anglin [Chicago, Illinois], I believe. There--I was a social worker at the time and I was offered a job, I think, two hundred dollars a month, Golden State insurance company [Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company] and had a falling out with my supervisor so I quit that job, and I went in this law firm practicing with Starke and Anglin. I was not an employee, you know, I was on my own.$$So you just used their offices as your office?$$Well, there was, was a lawyer there; I shared expenses. They gave me a lower rate. I was, there was--Mary Lou's [Clayter's second wife, Mary Lou Gullatt Clayter] cousin, Adolphus Rivers [D. Adolphus Rivers], was there, as was Thaddeus Rowe [Thaddeus B. Rowe] and so forth. Yeah, so I was sharing expenses and they wised--every time I got a case, I got a, seventy-five dollars was a big fee. If I got seventy-five dollars, they got twenty-five and, yeah. I never had a job as a lawyer, I just practiced law, you know, representing people, representing companies, representing--as they used to say, rabble rousing.$$How did you get your clients?$$I got my clients by hanging out in taverns at night, even though I didn't drink, and I had a couple of people and I got, I guess as a result of my being a social worker, their friends, you know. But mostly I would hang out at these taverns at night, you know.$$So were you doing mostly criminal cases, or criminal and civil?$$Well I did criminal cases, I didn't have an awful lot, then divorce case, I did--I had near enough to do an appellate case. I did my first case, criminal case, second case, I think was, let's see (unclear), I did, called myself doing a divorce. I did a case involving a fight over a water cooler (laughter), it was an icemaker, is one of the, this in the years when they, before they really got popular, they finally came out with the idea of ice cubes. I think so, Harrison versus Crockett [Crockett v. Harrison, 1960] about the ice cooler, yeah, um-hm.$$So there was some kind of damage action?$$It was a civil suit. They were trying, (laughter) they, they had loaned him, they had loaned Crockett [Elzie Crockett] some money. Crockett wasn't too bright. They loaned (unclear) some money and he got, he borrowed some money from a guy named Harrison [Tommy Harrison]. I think money came from Harrison to Crockett and then this credit, by the way, they were trying to take the icemaker and I think they, I think they filed suit on behalf of Harrison, against Crockett, they're trying to use Harrison to get to the icemaker from Crockett.$$And you were representing Crockett?$$Oh yeah, that was my man. He was a ju- jukebox operator so that's how I met him, you know, in the various joints, so to speak, and I had some cases, I don't know how I got 'em. (Pause) Oh lord, lord, the fights that I had to fight.$Well tell us a little about, what were the kind of the facts for the Oak Wood Cemetery case?$$The facts were, it seems to me that I recall, that Cornell [Cornell Davis] had had an eye on these guys and they'd been discriminating forever, and he went there, Cornell, when they sent Cornell--they had a body they wanted to cremate, they sent Cornell there and he approached the people about this cremation, and I think they scheduled the cremation, but Corneal they thought was white. They scheduled the, the cremation, and when the folk got there to do the cremation, they saw they were colored and no way Jose, can't do that, you know, we don't allow, we don't--I've forgotten the exact word, we don't bury Negroes in this cemetery [Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois]. And they said well, don't have a Negro, I've got a non--how did they have that? They thought he had a, in other words, they, they were under the impression that he had a white person, that he was white, and he had a white person he wanted to cremate. They said, "We don't bury 'em, we don't create 'em, we don't cremate them, you have to go somewhere else." Lincoln [Lincoln Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois], I think Lincoln or Burr Oak [Burr Oak Cemetery, Alsip, Illinois] were the two black cemeteries, so to speak, and I think Cornell, he evidently prepared for this 'cause I distinctly remember he had some pennies, he had a jar of pennies that he saved to use for the fee, and once they found out that he was in charge of this committee and the committee had, I don't know, ways and means, is just what it was, committee had some power to cut off some funds, they had to rethink the thing. But in the meantime, I'll never forget this experience. These lawyers had a deposition scheduled--$$These were lawyers for the cemetery?$$Cemetery, they were on the top floor of this building, lavish office, I mean--$$Do you remember the name of the firm?$$(Laughter) No, I don't, and we had a deposition, when they saw me there, they, they evidently didn't realize what was going on. I guess they realized a lawsuit, but they were shocked when they, when I, they saw me there, you know, and we worked things out and they finally gave in. I've forgotten what happened. 'Cause they didn't, the case didn't get much publicity.$$Did it ever go to trial?$$No (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Or was it a settlement?$$There's a lawsuit filed, come to think of it, it was a settlement, not a trial, I don't think there was a trial. I don't remember there being a trial.$$What was the settlement agreement?$$That they would open the facilities to, people no matter what--I don't think they went so far as to say no matter what the ethic, ethnic configuration was. They definitely agreed to handle Negroes (laughter). And stuff, I can't remember. I didn't, I didn't figure, I was talking to my daughter [Ariana Clayter], I didn't figure why, I wondered why we didn't get more publicity about the thing. It seemed like it was just kind of kept undercover. They didn't blast out, say you know, "Well now we're open to Negro applicants and Negro cadav- cadavers," or whatever.$$They kind of wanted to keep it quiet even though they had settled.$$They did, they kept it quiet. There's no television, no radio, no--I don't recall any newspapers, kind of hush-hush.