William T. Coleman Jr. ’43 (’46), the venerable civil rights lawyer who served on the Brown v. Board of Education case, as counsel to the Warren Commission and as secretary of transportation in the Gerald Ford Administration, was a guest speaker at Harvard Law School on Dec. 1.
The event, sponsored by Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, celebrated Coleman’s nearly 70-year career and his recently released memoir, “Counsel for the Situation: Shaping the Law to Realize America’s Promise.”
Coleman was introduced by Dean Martha Minow and his daughter Lovida Coleman, who said her father, through his work at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, “brought the promise of equality of opportunity closer to reality for many others.” “He is still in pursuit of the perfection of that promise,” she said.
Coleman, now 90, recalled vivid details of his extraordinary career. He told a packed room that there is still work to be done to fulfill the promise of civil rights in this country.
Coleman graduated at the top of his class at HLS and was the first African-American to serve as a law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. He clerked for Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter LL.B. 1906. He was the second African-American to serve as a U.S. Cabinet secretary, when he was appointed secretary of transportation in 1975.
Coleman is a senior partner and the senior counselor at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995, the highest honor given to civilians by the U.S. government.