On Wednesday, I attended an event here at HLS with William Thaddeus Coleman Jr. I was fortunate enough to be in charge of book sales for his memoir after the event and was able to sit next to Mr. Coleman for the better part of an hour. It was awesome.
If you’re anything like me, you probably had no idea who William Coleman was until you read his wikipedia page. After graduating at the very top of his class at Harvard Law School, Mr. Coleman was the first African-American to serve as a law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court (as a clerk for Justice Felix Frankfurter). He would go on to work as a co-author of an important brief in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, serve as counsel to the Warren Commission during its investigation into the death of President Kennedy, act as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, and finally serve as Secretary of Transportation under President Gerald Ford. Although he was the second African-American to serve in the Cabinet, he was sure to point out that he was the first African-American Republican to serve. One could go on at length about his career, but by now I’m sure you’ve already read the wikipedia entry.
At the event, Mr. Coleman was, at 90 years old, able to recall incredible details of his extraordinary life of public service. Most importantly, he told a packed room that we still have work to do to fulfill the promise of civil rights in this country. After the event, as I sat next to him, person after person came up to him telling moving stories about how he had changed their lives. I haven’t started his book yet, but I wanted to flag it in case anyone reading wanted to read about how Republicans used to be – rightful heirs to the legacy of Lincoln and eloquent fighters for equal rights. On a blog that rarely pays homage to Republicans of any stripe, I figured William Coleman deserved a short post.
Thank you for your service Secretary Coleman.