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William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr. : biography

July 7, 1920 -

William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr. (born July 7, 1920, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) was the fourth United States Secretary of Transportation, from March 7, 1975 to January 20, 1977, and the second African American to serve in the Cabinet. Coleman is also a distinguished lawyer who, with Thurgood Marshall, has played a major role in significant civil rights cases.

Later life

On leaving the Department, Coleman returned to Philadelphia, but subsequently became a partner in the Washington office of the Los Angeles-based law firm O'Melveny & Myers. On September 29, 1995, Coleman was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President William Clinton. In 1996, in the wake of the July 17 crash of TWA Flight 800, he served on the President's Commission on Airline and Airport Security. Coleman earned his LL.D. from Bates College in 1975.

In 1983, with the election quickly approaching, the Reagan administration stopped supporting the IRS's position against Bob Jones University that overtly discriminatory groups were ineligible for certain tax exemptions. Coleman was appointed to argue the now unsupported lower court position before the Supreme Court, and won in Bob Jones University v. United States. "On April 19, the Court announced that it would not allow the NAACP to join the case, and in a step considered unprecedented by legal scholars and 'extraordinary' even to the NAACP's leadership, the Supreme Court Appointed a prosecutor of its own—black attorney and civil rights activist William T. Coleman. Bob Jones III commented that 'this puts the court in the position of creating an issue to be litigated and insisting that an issue be heard when one of the two litigants declares 'no contest'." Coleman being sworn in at the [[Court of Military Commission Review. He is the third individual from the left.]] In September 2004 he was appointed to the United States Court of Military Commission Review.


In December 2006, Coleman served as an Honorary Pallbearer during the state funeral of Gerald Ford in both Washington, D.C. and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Early Life and Education

Coleman was born to William Thaddeus Coleman, Sr. and Laura Beatrice (Mason) Coleman. He attended local public schools before graduating summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 1941 and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1946.

In 1945, he married Lovida Mae Hardin. They have three children: Lovida H. Coleman, Jr., William T. Coleman III, lawyer; stepfather of Flavia Colgan, and Hardin L. Coleman, Dean, Boston University School of Education.

He was elected to the Pi Gamma Mu international honor society in 1941. Coleman is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Coleman was awarded an honorary degree from Gettysburg College on Sunday, May 22, 2011.


He began his legal career in 1947, serving as law clerk to Judge Herbert F. Goodrich of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1948. He was the first African American to serve as a Supreme Court law clerk. Coleman was one of the lead strategists and coauthor of the legal brief in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) in which the U.S. Supreme Court held racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional.

He served as a member of the NAACP's national legal committee, director and member of its executive committee, and president of board of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Coleman was also a member of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Committee on Government Employment Policy (1959–1961), a senior consultant and assistant counsel to the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (1964), and a consultant to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (1963–1975).

In 1969, he was a member of the U.S. delegation to the twenty-fourth session of the United Nations General Assembly. Coleman was also a member of the National Commission on Productivity (1971–1972). He was senior partner in the law firm of Dilworth, Paxson, Kalish, Levy & Coleman at the time of his appointment to the Ford administration.

Political Life

President Gerald Ford appointed Coleman to serve as the nation's fourth Secretary of Transportation on March 7, 1975. During Coleman's tenure at the Department, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's automobile test facility at East Liberty, Ohio commenced operations, and the department established the Materials Transportation Bureau to address pipeline safety and the safe shipment of hazardous materials.

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