Fifty years ago, two men took a bold step for themselves and for the future of Vanderbilt University Law School. Shortly after the landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional – and after strong encouragement from the law faculty – Vanderbilt Law School broke the color barrier and became the first privately funded law school in the South to admit African American students. The first two black students, Frederick Taylor Work and Edward Melvin Porter Sr., will return to Vanderbilt March 29-31 to be honored.
“These men were not only trail blazers within Vanderbilt, they’ve also gone on to highly successful careers in the field of law,” said Associate Dean Don Welch. “They paved the way for students today.”
Before attending Vanderbilt Law School, Porter was student body president at Tennessee State University. After receiving his law degree in 1959, he launched his law career in Oklahoma City. He became active in the Oklahoma City branch of the NAACP and served two separate terms as president, first in the 1960’s and again in the late 1980’s. In 1964, Porter became the first African American elected to the Oklahoma State Senate. He served there until 1986.
Work was born in Nashville and grew up on the campus of Fisk University, where both his parents taught. After graduating from Vanderbilt Law School in 1959, he moved to Indiana where he worked as an attorney for the city of Gary. In 1963, Work opened his own law firm and five years later he became the first African American to be nominated by a major party for statewide office in Indiana. Work has delved into numerous areas of law including civil and criminal trials, civil rights, real estate, employment and corporate law. He is still actively practicing law today.
Porter and Work will speak about their experiences on Friday, March 30, at noon in Flynn Auditorium.