New historic markers honor civil-rights attorneys Oliver Hill, Spottswood Robinson
Two new historic markers were unveiled Thursday honoring renowned civil-rights attorneys Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson, who worked to dismantle state-sanctioned discrimination and segregation, most famously through their contributions to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that integrated public schools.
“Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson fought tirelessly to dismantle racist, Jim Crow laws of their era,” Gov. Ralph Northam said. “As two of the best legal minds of their generation, they are in great part responsible for ensuring we live in a more equitable and just Commonwealth today. We owe these men an immeasurable debt of gratitude, and I am so proud that we are able to honor their legacy in this way.”
Both Robinson and Hill were graduates of Howard Law School. The two men became law partners in Richmond, and were core members of the Virginia NAACP’s legal team to aggressively challenge discriminatory and segregationist laws in education, public transportation, and other areas. Both were lawyers in the Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward case, which was one of five school segregation cases consolidated into the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which declared segregation in public education unconstitutional.
Hill was also very civically active, winning a Richmond City Council seat in 1948, the first African American to serve on the city council in the 20th century. Throughout his life, he was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died in 2007.
Robinson went on to serve as the Dean of the Howard University School of Law and as a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, before a career as a federal judge. He was the first African American to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and the first to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals as a judge and as chief judge. He died in 1998.
“Telling the true story of Virginia means highlighting the legacies of those like Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson, who have contributed to our state and nation in such transformative ways,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “We can be proud that these trailblazers are part of our shared history, and I hope all Virginians will take the time to learn about their story and their accomplishments.”
Virginia’s Historical Marker Program, run through the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR), began in 1927, making it the oldest such program in the country. To date, more than 2,700 markers have been placed around the Commonwealth, linking important stories about Virginia’s past to the very places where they occurred.
Northam has put forward a historic justice and equity agenda focused on telling a more accurate and complete story of Virginia’s past.
The governor’s proposed budget includes funding to digitize Virginia’s highway markers in addition to significant investments in new historical highway markers that reflect the wide range of stories and people in the Commonwealth’s history.
The markers describing and honoring Hill and Robinson’s achievements will be placed on Bank Street outside the Lewis F. Powell, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Richmond.