Oliver Hill was on hand to receive accolades for his lifetime contributions at the BLSA's annual Oliver W. Hill Scholarship Banquet in April.
"This is an unusually marvelous occasion -- the 100th birthday of Oliver Hill," Law School Dean Taylor Reveley told the audience of about 80 law students, faculty, and law alumni who gathered for the elegant event hosted by the BLSA at a hotel in Williamsburg. "Mr. Hill was one of the tiny handful of people who was essential to ending segregation in our country."
Hill, who turned 100 on May 1, spent his career fighting to end racial discrimination, arguing Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, one of the five cases decided under Brown v. Board of Education. In recognition of his work, Hill received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999, and in 2005, Hill was awarded the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP's highest honor. He also has received numerous other awards, including the American Bar Association Medal and the National Bar Association Hero of the Law award.
Tazewell Taylor Law Professor Jim Moliterno said the title "Hero of the Law" provides an accurate interpretation of the impact of Hill's work. "I have great admiration for great lawyers because I believe in the legal profession and what it can do," said Moliterno. "I am honored to be in Oliver W. Hill's presence. He is truly a hero of the law."
The event's keynote speaker was Melvin Patrick Ely, professor of history and black studies at the College of William & Mary. In 2005, Ely received the prestigious Bancroft Prize in American History for his book Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War.
Also describing Hill as a hero, Ely suggested that Hill's generation of civil rights leaders was the greatest generation of Americans.
Ely noted that "there are three salient qualities that make Hill's the greatest and most inspiring generation in American history: fearlessness, imagination and humor." Ely said he admired Hill's courage, noting that Hill displayed a "total fearlessness in the face of white power."
In discussing the imaginative nature of Hill's generation, Ely said, "Of all the impediments that white people put in the path of African Americans trying to attain equality, [chief among them] was the lack of imagination on the part of whites to envision a society of equality...without desegregation." Although Ely pointed out that there is still progress to be made in ending racial prejudice, he noted that much has been accomplished "because of Hill and other leaders who ...were idealistic enough to teach us that a society of equity was possible."
Associate Dean of Law School Admissions Faye Shealy announced at the banquet that James Faison J.D. '09 was the 2007-2008 recipient of the Oliver White Hill scholarship. Faison wrote an essay describing how, as the child of educators, he has personally benefited from Hill's work to equalize pay for African-American teachers and integrate schools.
Following the scholarship presentation, guests sang "Happy Birthday" to Hill, and BLSA members presented Hill with an artistic print in recognition of his work in the field of law.
"[Hill spent his life] fighting for a society in which color does not determine one's chances," Ely told those in attendance. "We are much closer to this because we Americans, black and white, were blessed by the leadership of Oliver Hill."
Editor's Note: The New York Times reported that Mr. Hill died at his home in Richmond on Aug. 5. Read the story.