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"Oliver W. Hill and Irene W. Kirkaldy"

September/October 2007 issue of Poverty & Race

We dedicate this issue of P&R to the life and good works of Oliver W. Hill and Irene W. Kirkaldy, important civil rights activists who died in August.

Hill, 100 at the time of his death, was a key member of the legal team (with Charles Hamilton Houston, Spottswood Robinson III and Thurgood Marshall) that won Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court case that incorporated the earlier Virginia case (plus four others) for which he was a lead lawyer. After graduation from Howard Law School, he moved back to his native Richmond, where in 1948 he was the first Black person elected to the City Council in 50 years. Hill’s life was devoted to civil rights, including voting rights and redlining issues—at one point, he had 75 civil rights cases pending, and is estimated to have won $50 million in better pay and infrastructure needs for the state’s Black teachers and students during his career. In 1999, Pres. Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Kirkaldy, as the Wash. Post Aug. 13 obituary noted, “quietly changed history in 1944”—11 years before Rosa Parks’ similar act in Montgomery, AL—when she, a 27-year-old mother of 2, just recovering from a miscarriage and wanting a comfortable seat for her lengthy ride home to see a doctor, was jailed for refusing to give up her seat to a white couple on a crowded Greyhound bus, traveling from her home in Gloucester, VA to Baltimore. The landmark Supreme Court decision in her case (Irene Morgan [her name then] v. Commonwealth of Virginia), challenging Virginia’s segregation laws for black passengers, outlawed as unconstitutional segregation in interstate transportation and sparked the first Freedom Ride in 1947, testing the decision (see “Freedom Riders,” the lead article in the July/Aug. 2006 P&R, the précis of Raymond Arsenault’s great history, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice [Oxford Univ. Press].) In 2001, Pres. Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal.
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