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Politics, Virginia

Bill proposes renaming of Roanoke federal court building for civil rights leader

Rebecca Barnabi
(© SevenMaps – shutterstock.com)

Supreme Court Justice Richard H. Poff was a man of his time.

A segregationist, Poff was a good public servant but fought for segregation in Congress and public schools. He fought against civil rights legislation aimed at treating all Americans as equal.

His name on the federal court building at 210 Franklin Road, SW, in Roanoke, became controversial and an obvious error over time.

“There was an effort underway, I’m happy to say, led by the Roanoke NAACP and also by former U.S. Attorney John Fishwick to rename the court building in honor of Reuben Lawson, who was a history-making lawyer in Roanoke, who filed many of the school desegregation cases in Southwest Virginia, beginning with a case in Floyd,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine.

Yesterday, on what would have been Lawson’s 103rd birthday, Kaine and U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner introduced legislation to have the Poff Federal Building renamed for Lawson.

“Tim Kaine and I put forward legislation to rename the Roanoke Courthouse after a great civil rights leader, Reuben Lawson. I mention that because Reuben, who had grown up in Roanoke, worked with Oliver Hill, and helped lead toward desegregation of a number of schools across Southwest Virginia,” Warner said.

According to Kaine, Lawson was also instrumental in the integration of Victory Stadium, and when the then-Washington Redskins prepared to play in the stadium Lawson led an effort by the players to insist that they would not play unless the stadium was integrated. The effort was successful.

Roanoke City Council supports the renaming of the building.

The legislation will be considered by the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works before vote by the Senate and then the U.S. House.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.