WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) introduced legislation to rename a federal building in Roanoke, VA the “Reuben E. Lawson Federal Building” in honor of the life and legacy of civil rights lawyer Reuben Lawson. Today, December 6th, marks what would have been Lawson’s 103rd birthday.
“Reuben Lawson dedicated his life and career to fighting against segregation and paving the way for historic civil rights action,” said the senators. “We are proud to introduce this legislation, which would ensure Mr. Lawson’s relentless pursuit of social justice is cemented in Roanoke and remembered across Virginia.”
Lawson graduated from Howard Law School in 1945 and spent his career in Roanoke, working closely with civil rights titan Oliver Hill. Lawson filed the first desegregation case in Southwest Virginia, which resulted in the admission of 13 African American students into Floyd County’s high school, which until then had only admitted white students. Similar efforts then followed in Pulaski, Grayson, and Roanoke Counties. Lawson also played a key role in convincing the Roanoke City Council to defy Virginia’s segregation law in 1961 and integrate Roanoke’s Victory Stadium.
In September of this year, Sens. Warner and Kaine met with Roanoke attorney and former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia John Fishwick, Reverend Edward Burton, and members of the Roanoke community who have championed the effort to honor Mr. Lawson through renaming this Federal Building.
“Reuben E. Lawson was a trailblazing civil rights attorney in Roanoke, Virginia,” said former U.S. Attorney John Fishwick. “His legacy and fearlessness during a turbulent time of civil unrest throughout our country has long been overlooked, and naming Roanoke’s federal building in his honor will give Mr. Lawson the recognition he deserves.”
“I knew Reuben Lawson through our work in the Roanoke Chapter of the NAACP in the 1960s. Reuben was soft-spoken and easy to relate to, but worked tirelessly and enthusiastically to integrate the schools in our region through the courts. He led us in that day and time, and I am proud of the effort to honor his legacy,” said Rev. Edward Burton.
“Mr. Lawson deserves to be recognized for his contributions to ending Jim Crow. The Roanoke Branch NAACP has a shared history with Mr. Lawson and continues to advocate for justice as Mr. Lawson did those many years ago; we can think of no more deserving honor than naming the Federal Courthouse in Roanoke—where Mr. Lawson valiantly fought segregationist policies—after him. Mr. Lawson was truly Roanoke’s own civil rights attorney, embodying not only the city, but the spirit of its diverse population,” said Dr. Brenda L. Hale, President of the Roanoke Chapter of the NAACP.
The building is currently named after former Virginia Congressman and State Supreme Court Justice Richard H. Poff, who opposed integration and voted against the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
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