Remembering William T. Coleman Jr., Ford Cabinet member, prominent lawyer and public servant

May 2, 2017

William T. Coleman Jr., appointed by President Ford to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1975 - 1977, died on March 31, 2017. He was a prominent lawyer, a moderate Republican, a lifelong champion of Civil Rights, the first black man to clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court justice, and the second black man to serve in a White House cabinet.

In 1951, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall invited Coleman, who had already clerked for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, to join the team preparing legal briefs for Brown v. Board of Education. Coleman, who had attended a segregated elementary school in Philadelphia and had first-hand experiences with discrimination, made significant contributions to the brief. In 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional.

In a 2008 interview with Richard Norton Smith, part of an oral history project commissioned by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, Coleman was asked whether President Ford had been responsive to the Civil Rights agenda. “He was superb,” said Coleman of Ford's legacy. “I think when the history is written it will demonstrate that people like President Ford and Eisenhower did much more to bring about change than anybody else, although a lot of other people talked about it.”