The Columns

Washington and Lee University Mourns Civil Rights Leader Oliver Hill

— by on August 7th, 2007

Oliver W. Hill, prominent civil rights crusader and attorney, died Sunday, Aug. 5, at his Richmond, Va., home. He was 100. Hill received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University in 2000.

Hill was a close friend of the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell ’29A, ’31L, as well as of current Board of Trustees member Robert J. Grey ’76L. Commenting on Hill’s life to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Grey said the lawyer possessed a sense of fairness and always rooted for the underdog.

“But he believed that you always had to play in the big leagues. He did not want to play in the minor leagues. . . . He thought large,” Grey told the paper. “And I was always influenced by the way he saw things.”

“Oliver Hill was a great Virginian and a great American,” said W&L President Ken Ruscio ’76A. “He reminded us forcefully that equal justice is a defining quality of the American experience.”

In addition to Grey, another alum, Melissa Amos Young ’92L, has worked with the Oliver Hill Foundation, which recently bought Hill’s boyhood home in Roanoke, Va. When Young met Hill in 2004, she “held his hand and felt such a deep sense of gratitude for his hard work, dedication to the civil rights cause and his sacrifice,” she told the undergraduate alumni magazine.

The W&L School of Law has agreed to work with the Oliver Hill Foundation to undertake pro bono activities using the house in Roanoke.

Law Dean Rodney Smolla, who worked with Hill at the University of Richmond on programs commemorating both the 40th and 50th anniversaries of Brown v. Board of Education, said, “He always reminded me that the full promise of Brown was yet to be fulfilled in our nation.”

For full coverage of Oliver Hill’s life and the reaction to his passing, visit the Web site for the Richmond Times-Dispatch