On this day in 1960, civil rights attorney, Romeo Marcus Williams, died when his car was struck
by a railroad switching engine in Marshall.
Williams was born on the outskirts of Marshall in 1919. An outstanding student, he attended
Bishop College and was the first African-American to pass the Army Air Corps examination.
He entered the Tuskegee Army Flying School in 1941. At Tuskegee Williams advanced to the rank of Second Lieutenant (2LT) and received the Aviation Administration certificate.
After the war Williams returned to civilian life determined to fight the injustice and prejudice he had encountered, especially during the war, by becoming a lawyer. Williams studied law in St. Louis, Missouri, obtained his legal credentials, and became a junior partner in the Dallas law firm of W. J. Durham
William J. Durham worked with Thurgood Marshall and Mr. Williams on "SWEATT VS PAINTER" CASE REGARDING HEMAN SWEATT BEING DENIED ENTRANCE TO THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS LAW SCHOOL)
William J. Durham
Education: Emporia State University
Born on a farm near Sulphur Springs, Texas, Durham attended Emporia State University in Kansas. After serving in the United States Army in France during World War I, he moved to Sherman where he studied law in the office of a white attorney, Benjamin F. Gafford. Durham was admitted to the bar in 1926 and began practicing law.
Durham spent the rest of his life fighting for equal rights for blacks in Texas, despite a race riot in Sherman in May 1930, where the black business district, including Durham's office, was burned. He became a leader in the Texas NAACP and served as the attorney in more than forty civil rights cases that sought to end segregation throughout Texas.
HEMAN AND CONSTANTINE SWEATT
HEMAN SWEATT TRYING TO GO TO THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS LAW SCHOOL
His most famous case was Sweatt v. Painter (1950) which resulted in the integration of the University of Texas School of Law. Durham and Thurgood Marshall worked closely in crafting this case from quarters in the Durham family home in Sherman.
Herman Sweatt, a black, prospective law student filed suit against administrators of the University of Texas after being denied admission because of his race. Defendants argued that seperate law schools for blacks were opening soon. The court maintained the seperate but equal doctrine, but ruled that black schools were inferior to white ones. As for the ruling, the university was found guilty of violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
In 1956 Williams decided to return to Marshall and set up a private legal practice. He was the first lawyer called upon by students arrested in civil-rights demonstrations and sit-ins in Marshall. His accidental death in 1960 stunned the Marshall community, and the legal cases against the students were dismissed.
Shortly thereafter Marshall's public facilities were desegregated.
Notables from across Texas attended Williams's funeral at New Bethel Baptist Church in Marshall.
Milton K. Curry, president of Bishop College, eulogized Williams as a man dedicated "to the
cause of human dignity ... the struggle for freedom."