Legal Figures and School Desegregation

Avon Williams

Avon Williams

Source: Photograph, personal collection of Wendi Williams Thomas.

Attorney Avon N. Williams, a civil rights activist himself, was a NAACP cooperating attorney and represented African Americans in court seeking to integrate schools. Williams is perhaps best known for his advocacy which resulted in the merger of the white University of Tennessee at Nashville with the Black Tennessee State University into one educational institution. Additionally, Williams represented the plaintiffs in John McFerren, Jr., v. Fayette County Board of Education (1965). In July 1965, Williams provided representation to John McFerren, Jr. when he was expelled, and later reinstated with other relief ordered by the federal court, from elementary school for what activist believed was retaliation against him for his parents for their activism. Additionally, in 1970, Williams was also successful in having reinstated some of the African American teachers, with back pay, who were terminated from Fayette County.

*Sources, The Tennessean & Tennessee State University, "Our Portion of Hell"

Daphene McFerren Discusses Impact of Avon Williams

Source: 2002 documentary project on Fayette County, TN: Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries

Judge Robert McRae

Judge McRae

Source: Photograph, Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries.

Federal Judge Robert McRae, United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, presided over the difficult desegregation cases in both Memphis and in Fayette County, Tennessee.

Judge McRae is best known for his orders resulting in the integration of Memphis City schools and for his support of busing was a means to achieve integration. Judge McRae ordered integration of Fayette County Schools (1969), ordered reinstatement of John McFerren, Jr, after he was expelled from school for what activists believed was in retaliation for his parent's civil rights activism (1965); and ordered the reinstatement and back pay of several teachers who were terminated in (1970).