Listen to an audio recording of an oral history interview with attorney William T. Coleman, Jr., or read the transcript. Coleman was lead strategist and co-author of the legal brief in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) in which the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools, and Secretary of Transportation, 1975-1977. Coleman was interviewed by Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, Professor of History at Norfolk State University, at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, DC.
Coleman talks about his parents’ roots in Baltimore, Maryland, and the history of his mother’s family (Mason), his youth in suburban Philadelphia, and discrimination he experienced there, attending the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University Law School. He recalls his experiences in World War II training as a pilot in Mississippi and Texas and attending Harvard University business school while he was in the army, defending African American pilots who were denied access to the officers’ club at Freeman Field in Seymour, Indiana in 1945, clerking for Judge Herbert F. Goodrich of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, his work as a lawyer in New York City and Philadelphia, and on the Brown v. Board of Education and Little Rock school desegregation cases. He also discusses his work on the Eisenhower Committee on Government Employment Policy, formed to expand employment of African Americans in federal government, and as General Counsel on the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy; his accomplishments Secretary of Transportation, and advising President Ford on the Boston school busing case. Finally, Coleman recalls his relationships with civil rights advocates Thurgood Marshall, Charles H. Houston, William H. Hastie, Elliott L. Richardson, who also clerked with Justice Frankfurter, and President Lyndon Johnson.