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Celebrating the Life and Honoring the Memory of William T. Coleman, Jr.

WHEREAS, the late Secretary William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr., from his early years as a young civil rights lawyer from Philadelphia, broke racial barriers; and

WHEREAS, Secretary Coleman was the first "Negro law Clerk" in the Supreme Court's 158-year history when he clerked for Justice Felix Frankfurter from 1948 to 1949. He went on to serve as a member of the National Legal Committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and he is best memorialized for his talent and tenacity as a civil rights attorney, advocate and public servant; and

WHEREAS, Secretary Coleman was accepted into Harvard Law School but left in 1943 to enlist in the Army Air Forces spending part of his time as a defense team member in court-martial proceedings. In one such case, he helped defend black airmen who had been arrested for challenging segregation at an officers' club. At the end of his service, he was accepted by The Harvard Law School and graduated first in his class in 1947; and

WHEREAS, Secretary Coleman was the first African-American staff member of the Harvard Law Review; and

WHEREAS, as a young man, Secretary Coleman was recruited by NAACP General Counsel Thurgood Marshall as the lead strategist and coauthor of the legal brief in Brown v. Board of Education. Secretary Coleman coordinated research efforts in 37 states, which ultimately became five cases, collectively known as Brown v. Board of Education. He also helped to write the legal briefs that formed the basis of Marshall's arguments before the Supreme Court. The Court ultimately declared state laws establishing separate public schools for African-American and white students to be unconstitutional; and

WHEREAS, ten years later in McLaughlin v. Florida, Secretary Coleman appeared before the Supreme Court and argued against a Florida law that barred "any negro man and white woman, or any white man and negro woman" from living together. The Supreme Court overturned the Florida law, thereby establishing the constitutionality of racially mixed sexual relations, interracial marriage and cohabitation. Three years later, in Loving v. Virginia, the Court unanimously declared all race-based legal restrictions on marriage unconstitutional. In 1982, in Bob Jones University v. United States, Secretary Coleman persuaded the Court, by a vote of 8-1, that private schools practicing racial discrimination should be barred from receiving federal tax exemptions telling the court, "when fundamental public policy is violated, a defense of religious belief is not available," and

WHEREAS, Secretary Coleman argued a total of 19 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court; and

WHEREAS, Secretary Coleman was named by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Commission on Employment Policy and was named an assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; and

WHEREAS, his career in law and public service included his appointment by President Gerald Ford to serve as the fourth United States Secretary of Transportation, the second African American to hold a cabinet-level position; and

WHEREAS, Secretary Coleman was named president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in 1971 and was its chairman from 1977 to 1997. He turned down offers from two Presidents for federal judgeships; and

WHEREAS, in 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President William J. Clinton; and

WHEREAS, to this end, he dedicated his life to upholding the ideals of the U.S. Constitution to protect the rights of all people.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") is privileged to be the beneficiary of the many contributions of Secretary William T. Coleman, Jr. and is proud to pay richly deserved tribute to Secretary Coleman, as a courageous and outstanding public servant for civil rights; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the NAACP honors the contributions towards the advancement of civil rights by Secretary William T. Coleman Jr. who rose above racial barriers himself as a student, military member, influential lawyer and a cabinet secretary.