Coleman, William T., Jr.

Coleman, William T. (Thaddeus), Jr.

(1920–  ) lawyer, cabinet officer; born in Philadelphia. Although his family was solidly middle class, he experienced his share of racial bigotry in his youth. His Harvard Law School education was interrupted by World War II service in the Army Air Corps (1943–45), but he returned to graduate first in his class. He joined one of Philadelphia's most prestigious law firms in 1952, becoming a full partner in 1956. He specialized in corporate, transportation, and civil rights law; in the latter, his chief contributions were in Brown v. Board of Education (banning school segregation) and McLaughlin v. Florida (allowing interracial marriage). He took on many part-time assignments for the federal government but turned down several offers of full-time appointments until he accepted President Gerald Ford's request to serve as secretary of transportation (1975–77)—only the second African-American to hold a cabinet post. He then practiced corporate law in Washington.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.