Author: Larissa Smith Fergeson


Oliver W. Hill (1907–2007)

Oliver W. Hill was an African American attorney and civil rights activist. As the lead attorney for the Virginia State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Hill and his colleagues filed more legal challenges to segregation than any other lawyers in the South and successfully undermined segregation and discrimination in all walks of southern life. Born in Richmond, Hill earned his law degree in 1933 at Howard University, where he met Thurgood Marshall, a future NAACP lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court associate justice. In coordination with Marshall, then special counsel for the NAACP, Hill argued on behalf of Black teachers in Norfolk who received less pay than white teachers for equal work. After winning a federal appeals court ruling in 1940, Hill became an NAACP attorney in Virginia. He was one of the leading lawyers in Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward, one of five suits that were consolidated into the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954). In the landmark decision, the Supreme Court declared segregation in public education unconstitutional. Hill believed political activism went hand-in-hand with the legal assault on segregation and ran repeatedly for political office as a way to encourage African Americans to register and vote. In 1948, Hill became the first African American elected to the Richmond city council since 1894. He retired from the law in 1998 and died at his home in Richmond in 2007.