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The African American Student Project
at the University of Michigan

Let Every Story Be Told

The mission of the African American Student Project is to identify every African American student who attended the University of Michigan from its founding in 1817 to 1970. You can use this site to learn more about the project, explore the names and data that have been uncovered to date, and share your stories.

Welcome to the African American Student Project

House Party at Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity (Epsilon chapter), May 1927.

A message from Angela Dillard, the Richard A. Meisler Collegiate Professor of Afroamerican & African Studies, History, and in the Residential College, the Chair of the Department of History, and a member of the executive committee of the Bentley Historical Library.

As a member of the executive committee of the Bentley Historical Library (BHL), I invite you to join us in the BHL community as we launch a new, long-term project on the history of African Americans at the University of Michigan.

This project begins, as it should, with the lives of African American students at the University, and we are calling this website, appropriately, the African American Student Project.

Here you will find a database listing the names and years of attendance of every African American student who attended the University for any length of time from 1853 until 1970. In structuring the list in this way, we follow the practice of the Alumni Association of the U-M (UMAA), which defines an alum as anyone who attended the University for any length of time. This is the first installment of this database, and we intend to add to it as more data become available.

Here you will see a collection of stories, autobiographies, and biographies about some of the remarkable African American students who attended the University and the diverse nature of their experiences.

For most of the University’s history, these experiences were a combination of institutional barriers and the determination to overcome them.

One problematic factor for African American students was finding housing. It was not until 1915 that the first dormitories—for women—were built on the campus and, prior to that, all students had to find places to live in local boarding houses. Here you will see a map of the ways in which African American residences were segregated between 1853 and 1973. Even when more dormitories were added during the 1930s, for both men and women, they were significantly segregated. You can read a story here about the separate housing that the University itself maintained for African American women.

And we ask for your help with this project.

  • Please use the database. Is there incomplete or incorrect information there involving your family and friends? If so, use the form below to contact us.
  • Please share stories with us. Are there people who should be highlighted on this website? Tell us who through the form at the bottom of the page.
  • Please consider donating your archives to the Bentley Historical Library. Historical records of African American students, their living situations, their organizations, and their overall experiences on this campus are sadly rare. We need to make it possible for succeeding generations to be more familiar with the stories than our own has been.
  • Finally, keep in touch! We will be adding information to this database continuously and we will update you on our collective progress.

Thank you for joining us on this exciting historical journey.

Collaborations and Contributions

Do you have a direct connection to this research or a critical story we should know about? Collaboration is essential for this project and we want to hear from you.

Angela Dillard among archival shelves at the Bentley Historical Library
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(Top to bottom) Professor Angela Dillard among archival materials at the Bentley Historical Library; student information card for Marjorie A. Blackistone.

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Black Action Movement (BAM) Strike, 1970

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George Jewett, 1892

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Women of the Class of 1887

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"Den of the Mellow Men" 1971

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Mosher Jordan dormitory, 1930

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Cornelius Henderson, 1911

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Students in Class

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Vivian Deborah Wilson Student Card

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W. E.B. DuBois "Crisis" letter

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University of Michigan Baseball Team, 1883

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Katherine Louise Crawford

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Enrollment card for 1931-32 filled out by E'Dora Morton, the first African American woman to live in the Mosher-Jordan dormitory.

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(Top to bottom) Professor Angela Dillard among archival materials at the Bentley Historical Library; student information card for Marjorie A. Blackistone.

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Negro-Caucasian Club

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Group on Steps of Alpha Phi Alpha House

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Black Action Movement (BAM) Strike, 1970

Black Action Movement protesters march with signs in front of Hill Auditorium on March 20, 1970. The image is from a series of surveillance photographs taken by the University of Michigan Safety Department during the BAM strike. Source: Safety Dept. (University of Michigan) photograph collection, Box 1, BAM, March 1970

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George Jewett, 1892

George Jewett was from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan Medical School between 1890 and 1893. In 1890, Jewett became the first African American to play on the varsity football team. He completed his medical studies at Northwestern in 1895. This may be a wedding portrait taken later in his life. Source: Scan from copy print loaned by Coleman Jewett

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Women of the Class of 1887

Group photograph of the senior women of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts class of 1887. Frederica Florence Jones is pictured in the top right, the lone African American woman in her class. Her sister, Sophia Bethena Jones, earned an M.D. in 1885, and was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Michigan Medical School. Source: University of Michigan Photographs Vertical File, Class of 1887, F99-504 (Medium)

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"Den of the Mellow Men" 1971

Michigan football players pose in front of their off-campus house at 1345 Geddes Road called “The Den of the Mellow Men.” Players pictured are Billy Taylor, Glen Doughty, Thom Darden, Alden “Butch” Carpenter, Michael Oldham, and Michael Taylor. Fellow football player Reggie McKenzie also lived at the house. They were part of the largest group of Black athletes on athletic scholarship at that time. Source: Athletic Department (University of Michigan) records, Box 11, Folder: 1971, Mellow Men

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Mosher Jordan dormitory, 1930

This Mosher Jordan dormitory opened in 1930 with space for more than 400 women students. African American women were initially excluded from living in the new dormitory and were instead encouraged to live in a segregated house for “colored women.” In 1932, E’Dora Morton became the first African American woman to live in Mosher Jordan. Image taken by A.F. Crooks. Source: Alumni Association (University of Michigan) records, Box 135, Mosher-Jordan Hall: Exteriors

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Cornelius Henderson, 1911

Senior photograph of Cornelius Langston Henderson from the 1911 University of Michigan Michiganensian yearbook. Henderson earned a degree from the College of Engineering in 1911. He worked with the Canadian Bridge Company and helped design the Ambassador Bridge between the United States and Canada. Source: 1911 Michiganensian yearbook

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Students in Class

Students in a University of Michigan Law School class around the late 1960s. Source: University of Michigan News and Information Services Photographs, Box E-16, Student Activities

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Vivian Deborah Wilson Student Card

Student information card for Vivian D. Wilson containing local addresses, home address, occupation of parents, and other data maintained about student life by the Dean of Women at the University of Michigan. It also includes a photograph taken at the time of enrollment. Source: University of Michigan Alumni Files, 1845-1978, Wilson, Vivian Deborah

W. E.B. DuBois "Crisis" letter

Letter from W.E.B. DuBois to the University of Michigan requesting information on graduating African American students for publication in the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis. The annual education issue featured names, stories, and statistics on African American college graduates. Source: Harry Burns Hutchins paers, Box 13, Correspondence, May 1-7, 1917

University of Michigan Baseball Team, 1883

Team photos of the 1883 University of Michigan baseball team featuring Weldy Wilberforce Walker, the second African American to play baseball at Michigan. His brother, Moses Fleetwood Walker, was on the 1882 team. Source: University of Michigan Athletic Department records, Box 25, Team Photos, 1882-1900

Katherine Louise Crawford

Katherine Louise Crawford graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1898 and opened a medical practice in Ann Arbor. Source: University of Michigan BMC Media Services records, Box 6, Class photos - Graduation, 1890-1899

Enrollment card for 1931-32 filled out by E'Dora Morton, the first African American woman to live in the Mosher-Jordan dormitory.

Enrollment card for 1931-32 filled out by E'Dora Morton, the first African American woman to live in Mosher-Jordan dormitory. Source: University of Michigan Alumni Files, 1845-1978, Morton, E'Dora Susie

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(Top to bottom) Professor Angela Dillard among archival materials at the Bentley Historical Library; student information card for Marjorie A. Blackistone.

Student information card for Marjorie A. Blackistone containing local addresses, home address, occupation of parents, and other data maintained by the Dean of Women at the University of Michigan. It also includes a photograph taken at the time of enrollment. Source: University of Michigan Alumni Files, 1845-1978, Blackistone, Marjorie Adelle

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Negro-Caucasian Club

Members of the Negro-Caucasian Club, a campus group established in 1926 to study and discuss problems in relations between races. The club brought several prominent speakers to campus, including Alain LeRoy Locke, and W.E.B. DuBois, before it disbanded in 1930. Source: 1927 Michiganenisan yearbook, page 323

Group on Steps of Alpha Phi Alpha House

This group photo was taken around 1912 on the front steps of 1017 Catherine Avenue in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the location of the Epsilon chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Alpha Phi Alpha is the oldest African American fraternity. The Epsilon chapter was established at Michigan in 1909. The photo is by Ann Arbor-based Lyndon Photo Studio. Source: Alpha Phi Alpha, Epsilon Chapter (University of Michigan) photograph collection

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Submit Corrections, Additions, or Omissions to the Database

Because the University didn’t track students by race prior to 1970, these names have been compiled through robust research. That said, there may be names we may have missed, corrections to be made, or other relevant information to contribute. If you have contributions or corrections, we are eager to hear from you.

A New Lens on African American Student Housing Data

Mapping where African American students lived brings the nature of housing segregation into sharp focus. With the help of University of Michigan Visualization Librarian Justin Joque and his team, the mass of collected information on local addresses and events was integrated with a 1930 Sanborn insurance map of Ann Arbor, overlaid on a large regional map, and used as the basis for mapping the addresses.

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IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Autobiographies and Biographies

Explore the personal stories of African American alumni through their autobiographies and biographies.

willis-patterson-book-cover

The Unlikely Saga of a Singer from Ann Arbor

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Roger Wilkins book cover

A Man’s Life: An Autobiography

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Jessye Norman Book Cover

Stand Up Straight and Sing!

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william-jimmerson-holloway-book-cover

The Odyssey of a North American Educator

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Mary Olivia Brookins Ross Book Cover

From Crumbs to Gravy: The Autobiography of Mary Olivia Brookins Ross

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Cover of book Being Black Looking White

Being Black, Looking White ... My World

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Cover image for the book The Quiet Trailblazer

The Quiet Trailblazer

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The Rest of the Dream book cover

The Rest of the Dream: The Black Odyssey of Lyman Johnson

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Upward book cover

Upward: A History of Norfolk State University

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Lawrence Chesterfield Bryant portrait circa 1973

Autobiography of Lawrence C. Bryant

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Cover for the book Memoirs of a Black Psychiatrist

Memoirs of a Black Psychiatrist: A Life of Advocacy for Social Change

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Cover for Hot Fudge Sundae in a White Paper Cup by Gwendolyn Baker

Hot Fudge Sundae in a White Paper Cup: A Spirited Black Woman in a White World

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Cover for Voices and Silences, the memoir of James Earl Jones

Voices and Silences

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Cover for Every Man Should Try by Hubert Eaton

Every Man Should Try

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Cazzie Russell dunking a basketball in 1964

Me, Cazzie Russell

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Cover for From a Small Town to the World by David L. Stratmon, Sr.

From a Small Town to the World: My Story

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Cover of News Lady by Carole Simpson

News Lady

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Portrait of Clarence W. Norris

Up From Poverty

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Cover for Open Secrets by Betty Brown Chappell

Open Secrets: A Poor Person’s Life in Higher Education

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Line drawing portrait of William Henry Fitzbutler

Henry Fitzbutler: Detroit’s First Black Medical Student

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Cover for Fleet Walker's Divided Heart

Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer

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Billy Taylor wearing number 42 jersey and holding a football helmet

Get Back Up: The Billy Taylor Story

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Michigan Publishing, 2015 Willis C. Patterson:

The Unlikely Saga of a Singer from Ann Arbor

A highly accomplished classical singer, Willis Charles Patterson had a wide-ranging career, which included over 40 years as an inspirational educator in Michigan’s School of Music.

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willis-patterson-book-cover
Simon and Schuster, 1982 Roger Wilkins:

A Man’s Life: An Autobiography

Roger Wilkins was a leader in the fight for civil rights in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations before becoming a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist.

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Roger Wilkins book cover
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014 Jessye Norman:

Stand Up Straight and Sing!

Jessye Norman was one of the world’s most beloved opera singers and recitalists, performing across the globe for nearly fifty years.

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Jessye Norman Book Cover
Xlibris Corp., 2001 William Jimmerson Holloway:

The Odyssey of a North American Educator

William Jimmerson Holloway led a long and distinguished career as an educational administrator, first in historically segregated Black colleges and then as part of efforts to end segregation.

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william-jimmerson-holloway-book-cover
Harlo Press, 1989 Mary Olivia Brookins Ross:

From Crumbs to Gravy: The Autobiography of Mary Olivia Brookins Ross

Mary Olivia Brookins Ross was an educator and devout Baptist who led the women’s branch of the National Baptist Convention for more than thirty years.

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Mary Olivia Brookins Ross Book Cover
Self-Published, 2013 Sylvia Lash Holman:

Being Black, Looking White ... My World

Sylvia Lash Holman’s extraordinary life has taken her from segregated North Carolina to Ann Arbor where she spent decades as a teacher and advocate for educational equity.

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Cover of book Being Black Looking White
University of Georgia Press, 2021 Mary Frances Early:

The Quiet Trailblazer

Mary Frances Early was a celebrated musical educator and committed “foot soldier” in the struggle for civil rights, becoming the first Black graduate of the University of Georgia.

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Cover image for the book The Quiet Trailblazer
University Press of Kentucky, 1988 Lyman Johnson and Wade Hall:

The Rest of the Dream: The Black Odyssey of Lyman Johnson

Lyman Johnson was an educator and a key leader in the fight for civil rights in Kentucky for more than 40 years.

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The Rest of the Dream book cover
Howard University Press, 1983 Lyman Beecher Brooks:

Upward: A History of Norfolk State University

Lyman Beecher Brooks dedicated his life to education and to historically Black Norfolk State University, which he led for nearly 40 years.

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Upward book cover
Orangeburg, South Carolina, 1971 Lawrence Chesterfield Bryant:

Autobiography of Lawrence C. Bryant

Lawrence Chesterfield Bryant taught at historically Black colleges across the South and organized the first genealogical programs for African Americans in the Carolinas.

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Lawrence Chesterfield Bryant portrait circa 1973
Michigan Publishing, 2017 James L. Curtis:

Memoirs of a Black Psychiatrist: A Life of Advocacy for Social Change

James L. Curtis is an accomplished psychiatrist and was a leading figure in the struggle to end racism and segregation in medicine and particularly medical schools.

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Cover for the book Memoirs of a Black Psychiatrist
University of Michigan Press, 2014 Gwendolyn Calvert Baker:

Hot Fudge Sundae in a White Paper Cup: A Spirited Black Woman in a White World

Born in de facto segregated Ann Arbor, Gwendolyn Calvert Baker rose from elementary school teacher to head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

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Cover for Hot Fudge Sundae in a White Paper Cup by Gwendolyn Baker
Scribner, 1993 James Earl Jones and Penelope Niven:

Voices and Silences

James Earl Jones is one of America’s most distinguished and versatile actors with a career in film and theater stretching over more than six decades.

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Cover for Voices and Silences, the memoir of James Earl Jones
Bonaparte Press, 1984 Hubert Eaton:

Every Man Should Try

Hubert A. Eaton was an extremely skilled tennis player, but more than that he was an accomplished physician and leader in the struggle for civil rights in North Carolina.

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Cover for Every Man Should Try by Hubert Eaton
Revell Co., 1967 Cazzie Russell:

Me, Cazzie Russell

Cazzie Lee Russell was an incredible basketball talent who led Michigan to three Big Ten titles and whose exploits gave Crisler Arena the nickname “the house Cazzie built.”

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Cazzie Russell dunking a basketball in 1964
Xlibris Corp., 2008 David L. Stratmon, Sr.:

From a Small Town to the World: My Story

David L. Stratmon dedicated his life to America’s foreign service, serving as a diplomat and cultural affairs officer throughout Africa and the Middle East.

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Cover for From a Small Town to the World by David L. Stratmon, Sr.
Author House, 2010 Carole Simpson:

News Lady

Carole Simpson is a familiar face to millions of Americans. A career reporter, she was the “news lady” who anchored ABC’s weekend news for more than 15 years.

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Cover of News Lady by Carole Simpson
San Antonio, Texas: 1987 Clarence Windzell Norris, Sr.:

Up From Poverty

Clarence Norris was a proud University of Michigan alumnus who dedicated his life to teaching and to administering historically Black community colleges in Texas.

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Portrait of Clarence W. Norris
JAMBE Group, 2013 Betty Brown Chappell:

Open Secrets: A Poor Person’s Life in Higher Education

Betty Brown Chappel challenged and overcame the “open secrets” of discrimination to carve a place as a social worker and educator at Eastern Michigan University.

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Cover for Open Secrets by Betty Brown Chappell
Wayne State University Press for the Detroit Historical Society, 1973 L.L. Hanawalt

Henry Fitzbutler: Detroit’s First Black Medical Student

William Henry Fitzbutler was Michigan’s first Black medical graduate and had a long and distinguished career as a physician and educator in Kentucky.

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Line drawing portrait of William Henry Fitzbutler
University of Nebraska Press, 1995 David W. Zang

Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer

Long before Jackie Robinson, Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first African American to play professional baseball in the major leagues, playing for the Toledo Blue Stockings in the 1880s.

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Cover for Fleet Walker's Divided Heart
Immortal Investments Publishing, 2005 Dr. Billy Taylor and Kevin Allen

Get Back Up: The Billy Taylor Story

One of Michigan’s most celebrated football players, William Taylor was buffeted by numerous personal tragedies and spent nearly 20 years living on Detroit’s streets before rebuilding his life and becoming an educator.

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Billy Taylor wearing number 42 jersey and holding a football helmet
Wayne State University Press, 2022 Edward Littlejohn and Peter J. Hammer

George W. Crockett Jr. was a distinguished attorney, accomplished jurist, and Congressman who dedicated his life to the struggle for civil rights for African Americans and for all those unjustly targeted by the law.

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cover of No Equal Justice book