Interview with William Coleman
QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

…IN THE LATE FORTIES EARLY FIFTIES, PRIOR TO THE COURT DECISION. TRY TO PUT SOME TEXTURE ON WHAT REALITY WAS LIKE…

William Coleman:

Well, certainly, if you talk about the period 1940, or ‘41, ‘42, the country basically was completely segregated. I fortunately had uh, grown up in Philadelphia and we didn't have the same degree of segregation that you'd have in other places in the country. But it was pretty clear, like for example in this city, uh, when I was uh, law clerk to Justice Frankfurter. I remember one day when the court was closed and we were working and uh, Elliot Richardson who was a classmate of mine, and court clerk of Felix Frankfurter, wanted to take me to lunch. There was no restaurant in this town that he could take me to. As a result of that we had to go over to that uh, mission building right there and have lunch. Uh, when we came back and uh, Justice Frankfurter happened to find out about that, he had a great look of hurt on his face. I firmly believe to this day that that was the reason why when the court had a chance to declare illegal segregation in the hotels in Washington, segregation in the restaurants that he led the fight to get that done in a case called Thompson. That was before Brown versus Board of Education. I also had the experience of being called up to active duty uh, to defend my country. And I had been to the Harvard Law School, had finished first in my class, or was first in my class in the Harvard Law School. And when I got called up to join the Air Force, I went into a segregated Air Force. In fact I remember quite vividly that when I stepped off the, the uh, the uh—train in Biloxi, Mississippi, to go into the Air Force, uh to defend my country, having left the Harvard Law School, that two white uh, sergeants came up, and said, "Hey, nigger, where are you going?" I kept walking. They then said, "Hey, boy, where are you going?" At that point I felt that well, I'll settle for that at this time. And I told them, and so I then went to Biloxi Fair. But that was the type of situation that faced this country in the forties and in the '5O's until Brown was decided.