A prominent lawyer is calling for changing the name of Roanoke’s federal courthouse, which commemorates the late Richard H. Poff, a US Congressman who once supported segregation.
The building should be renamed in honor of Reuben E. Lawson, a civil rights attorney who fought for the very racial integration of schools that was opposed by Poff in the 1950s and 1960s, Roanoke attorney John Fishwick said.
“A federal courthouse is where our citizens go to vindicate their rights,” Fishwick said at a news conference Tuesday, “and it should be named after someone who reflected that principle.”
In a letter Monday to Southwest Virginia’s Congressional delegation — Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Republican Reps. Ben Cline and Morgan Griffith — Fishwick asked them to propose legislation to recognize “one of Roanoke’s undeservedly forgotten legal titans.”
People are also reading…
Lawson was a Black attorney who filed the region’s first desegregation lawsuit in 1960, which led to a federal judge ordering Floyd County Public Schools to admit 13 students who had been excluded from the all-white student population, the letter stated.
Similar legal challenges followed in Roanoke and Lynchburg and the counties of Grayson, Pulaski and Roanoke. Together, the cases put an end to segregation in Southwest Virginia that was still carried out in the years following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1954.
“Though quiet and soft-spoken, Mr. Lawson worked tirelessly and passionately for social justice,” the letter stated.
Although a number of public schools and other buildings named after Confederate generals have