Executive Director State Bar of Georgia email@example.com
This is the fourth in a series of articles highlighting the heroic and vital contributions lawyers and judges have made to the American Civil Rights Movement.
William Alexander: Low in Profile, High in Accomplishment
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, a number of African-American attorneys in Georgia rose to national prominence. Donald L. Hollowell and Horace T. Ward of Atlanta, C.B. King of Albany and John H. Ruffin Jr. of Augusta were among those in the public spotlight, taking the fight to the courthouse for equal access to education, public accommodations and basic constitutional rights.
Another name that might be harder to find in the history books but is no less iconic as a Georgia civil rights lawyer is that of William H. Alexander, who fearlessly challenged segregation and discrimination as an attorney in the 1950s and 1960s and later as a state legislator and judge in Fulton County’s State and Superior Courts.
Alexander was born in Macon and graduated from Fort Valley State University in 1954. Returning from service in the Korean War, he was unable to attend Georgia’s segregated law schools, so he matriculated at the University of Michigan Law School, earning a J.D. degree, and then Georgetown University Law School, earning an L.L.M. degree.
He began his law practice in Atlanta and, in his highest profile case, was the lead attorney in a 1964 federal lawsuit, Willis v. Pickrick Restaurant, against an Atlanta eatery and its owner, the segregationist future governor of Georgia, Lester Maddox, who refused service to African-Americans.
Alexander’s team included more famous lawyers such as Constance Baker Motley of New York and Burke Marshall of Washington, D.C. They brought the suit on behalf of three African-American ministers who were denied service by Maddox on July 4, 1964, two days after enactment of the Civil Rights Act. A gun-brandishing Maddox reportedly chased the ministers out of the restaurant and was accompanied by several of his white...