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Historic Civil Rights Law Firm Closes

Historic Civil Rights Law Firm Closes
Hill, Tucker & Marsh Played Key Role in Movement

By Jeremy M. Lazarus

sen.marsh

Virginia Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, who was also the first Black mayor of Richmond, says he decided to close the historic firm in order to dedicate more time to the work of his General Assembly seat.

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Richmond Free Press

RICHMOND, Va. (TriceEdneyWire.com) - The once trailblazing, prestigious law firm of Hill, Tucker & Marsh has shut its doors.

Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, the last surviving partner of the firm that included legal giants Oliver W. Hill Sr. and Samuel W. Tucker, closed the historic offices without fanfare last week.

Sen. Marsh called in movers Nov. 29 to pack up the office on the third floor of the Free Press Building in Downtown. They took the closed case files and furniture to storage.

Sen. Marsh, who will celebrate his 78th birthday Dec. 10, said he made the shutdown decision so he could spend more time on his work in the General Assembly, where he currently chairs the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

The former Richmond mayor was just re-elected to a sixth term in the legislature’s upper house, trouncing a much younger challenger in the Nov. 8 election.

“Everything comes to an end,” said Sen. Marsh. “Fifty years is long enough, isn’t it?”

Marsh spent his entire legal career with the firm that he founded with Mr. Tucker in 1961 and which Mr. Hill joined in 1966 after returning to Richmond from a five-year stint as assistant Federal Housing Authority commissioner for racial fairness policies.

In its heyday, the firm roared defiance at White supremacists and faced them down in court in successfully dismantling segregation barriers in education, employment and government. A number of the lawyers who practiced with the partners went on to gain judgeships in Virginia. Hill was part of the NAACP legal team that won the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 in which the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed government-enforced segregation of public schools in overturning the racist doctrine of “separate but equal.”

But it was Hill, Tucker & Marsh, formed seven years later when Sen. Marsh was a freshly minted lawyer, that led the fight to enforce the Brown decision.

The firm was involved in more than 50 school desegregation cases, including the famed 1968 case, Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, which finally forced school divisions in Virginia and across the country to obey the Brown decision.

The firm also was involved in the first legal case to successfully attack discrimination in the workplace, Quarles v. Philip Morris. That case led to equal pay for equal work for Black employees and ended the use of seniority systems to block promotions for Black workers.

The firm later successfully litigated 20 other employment class action cases that benefited thousands of Black and female workers. The firm also forced the Virginia legislature to adopt single-member districts, paving the way for the election of more black and minority representatives.

Most recently, Sen. Marsh represented a Muslim group in its successful fight to end religious discrimination in Henrico County to gain the right to build a mosque. The firm, though, has struggled since the deaths of the partners as Sen. Marsh juggled his legal work with his political duties. A few years ago, he sought to merge with another law group to secure the firm’s future, but that did not work out.

Keeping the firm viable became even harder after Sen. Marsh’s nephew and partner, Frederick H. Marsh, accepted a three-year suspension of his law license a year ago in a disciplinary action brought by the Virginia State Bar, which regulates attorneys. Sen. Marsh, who also was named in the case, denied that the closure of the firm was linked to that situation.

 
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