Roanoke to rename city courthouse after Oliver Hill, dedicates historical marker

Oliver Hill was Roanoke native, attorney involved in Brown v. Board

ROANOKE – Honoring a historic civil rights leader and Roanoke native, the commonwealth and Roanoke city commemorated civil rights lawyer Oliver Hill, an attorney who was involved in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision Friday with a historical marker dedication.

The historical marker now sits outside the Oliver Hill House, insuring Oliver Hill's legacy will live on.

"This is a historic moment," said Romona Taylor, president of the Oliver White Hill Foundation.
Now, every day the children who enter the Oliver Hill House through the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program will see the name of the Roanoke man who contributed to one of the most influential court cases in U.S. history 

Erin Ashwell, a Virginia Board of Historic Resources member, spoke during the dedication, and noted how impactful Brown v. Board is on American law.

“Brown v. Board to lawyers is this incredibly important thing that we study for extended periods of time. It changes the way you think about the Constitution,” Ashwell said.

The designation was approved in 2008. Former Mayor Nelson Harris was key in fundraising the nearly $2,000 it took to purchase the marker. Through the generosity of the community, the money was raised in only six hours. The additional $600 raised was donated to the Oliver White Hill Foundation.

Taylor gave a passionate speech about how Hill’s help in the legislation has shaped the way children are educated and society works today.

“It wasn't about brown people. It wasn't about white people. It wasn't about Native Americans. It was about injustice. And so everyone that you can touch was impacted,” Taylor said.

A life's work that started in the Roanoke city house now marked with a large white historical marker bearing Hill’s name. It is the state's first historical marker of its kind.

In a surprise announcement, Mayor Sherman Lea said Roanoke City Council will rename the city court house after Oliver Hill. Lea said he will make a resolution in a City Council meeting in January. While the date is tentative, he said he hopes to make the dedication in the spring.

“The impact that he made sets an example not only for Roanoke citizens but for everyone in this country to show how one's life can make a difference,” Lea said. “We want to honor him in a big way.”

Hill's son, Oliver Hill Jr. made the trip from Richmond to watch as a community honored his father.

"I'm glad to see his memory living on,” Hill Jr. said.

More than just a plaque, Hill Jr. said it's a symbol of his father's work, and a marker of continued progress.

"On a bigger picture, I think this is important for Virginia and the nation as a whole to start to tell other stories. To tell the complete story and I think that can have a major impact on race relations going forward,” Hill Jr. said.

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