Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka is a United States landmark case holding that state mandated public school segregation was unconstitutional. The case began in 1951 when 13 parents in Topeka, Kansas attempted to enroll their children in the closest neighborhood school, but were refused enrollment because of their race. As a result, the families filed a class action suit against Topeka’s Board of Education.
William T. Coleman Jr., Dilworth’s first African American attorney, played an active role in the case and his involvement remains an important part of the firm’s history. While working at Dilworth, and with the encouragement of Richardson Dilworth himself, Coleman commuted between Philadelphia and New York each weekend, working 14 hour days alongside Thurgood Marshall, then a prominent civil rights attorney. Coleman is widely credited with developing the legal theory that state mandated racial separation was unconstitutional as a matter of law without regard to the factual inquiry of whether separate facilities were equal.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court made the unanimous decision that the idea of “separate but equal” education was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The court found that the nature of segregation created significant psychological and social disadvantages for black children. Thus, the decision helped pave the way for integration in the U.S. and invigorated the civil rights movement.
Coleman remained a partner at Dilworth through the mid-1970s, before being named U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the administration of President Gerald Ford. He continued to practice law in Washington, D.C. into his 90’s. Today, Coleman’s legacy is embraced by the attorneys of Dilworth Paxson.