Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Public Viewing for A Virginia Pioneer of Civil Rights

It is ironic that Virginia is honoring Oliver Hill (at center in the picture at left) for the civil rights work he did to end racial segregation. You see, Virginia was one of the states that in areas opted for "massive resistance" in response to the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and literally closed the public schools rather than have blacks and whites attend the same schools. It is also ironic, in my view, because in the area of LGBT rights, Virginia is again following the massive resistance approach - e.g., a "marriage amendment" was passed last November and other anti-gay legislation was enacted before that - instead of one that provides equal rights to all citizens. Here's a portion of the Washington Post story (

RICHMOND, Aug. 11 -- Hundreds gathered at Virginia's Executive Mansion on Saturday to pay homage to Oliver Hill, the civil rights lawyer at the forefront of the court battle that outlawed America's segregated public schools. Dignitaries, citizens and Hill's family members filed into the governor's home to view Hill's body, which lay in repose in a sun-splashed room adorned with bright orange flowers. Hill died last Sunday at age 100.

"I really think this was kind of a validation of all that he'd done in his life," said Hill's son, Oliver Hill Jr., as he stood among a crowd of mourners. "It just lets us know how many people he touched, both black and white -- and he really was instrumental in transforming the commonwealth." An inscription on the inner lid of Hill's casket read, "May the work I've done speak for me."

In 1954, Hill was part of a series of lawsuits against racially segregated public schools that became the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which changed America's society by setting the foundation for integrated education.

"This is a changed commonwealth because of Mr. Hill," [Governor] Kaine said. "There are some things that we will never go back to because he helped break some old traditions that needed to be broken."

Needles to say, to many people in Virginia during the 1950's and 1960's, Oliver Hill was a hated and despised figure. Not coincidentally, many of those who hated Hill (and/or their religious and political successors) today hate gays.

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