Black History Month: Roanoke community remembers Reuben Lawson

ROANOKE, Va. – Reverend Edward Burton worked with Reuben Lawson during the Civil Rights era.

“We were in a full integration fight back in the 50s and 60s,” Burton said.

Lawson worked as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People lawyer. He worked to ensure he was prepared to fight on the local level that public schools in Southwest Virginia were integrated when the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation of public schools was unconstitutional after the passing of Brown v. Board of Education.

“Supreme court said integration was the law of they had to be fought on the local level Reuben Lawson was the attorney in this area,” Burton said.

Burton was the vice president of the Roanoke Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

He says Lawson was a humble man and proud of the work that he’s done to fight to desegregate schools in Southwest Virginia.

“That made me more interested and wanted to follow him and do the same kind of thing,” it gave me a sense of pride, the judges must have agreed because he won each case,” Burton said.

According to the Gainesboro History Project, in 1960, Lawson challenged the Roanoke City School Board on behalf of the NAACP.

He represented 28 African American public-school pupils and their representatives in the City of Roanoke challenging their denial of transfers from Black to White schools (Green v. School Board of the City of Roanoke).

Public schools in the Commonwealth are now accessible to anyone.

Burton, who worked for Lawson, wants to make sure his contributions are not forgotten by renaming the Richard Poff Federal Courthouse to the Reuben Lawson Federal Courthouse.

“I think we are living in different times,” Burton said.

Local attorney John Fishwick and Reverend Burton along with Roanoke Community members worked since October 2022 to get congressional leaders like Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to push for a law, Senate Bill 3412 to change the courthouse name.

“Many in the community have supported us and so we are excited about the support we’ve received to honor this great American,” Fishwick said.

About the Author

Duke Carter returned to 10 News in January 2022.