Thursday, August 4, 2011

Historical Figures: Orzell Billingsley, Jr.

Orzell Billingsley, Jr

(October 24, 1924 - December 14, 2001)

Orzell Billingsley, born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1924, was one of the first African Americans admitted to the Alabama Bar after graduating from Talladega College and Howard University. During his law career, he was deeply involved in civil rights litigation representing both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. He also helped to incorporate more than 20 small towns in Alabama that consisted of majority black populations and founded the Alabama Lawyers Association.. Billingsley is perhaps most well-known for his 15 year defense of Caliph Washington who was falsely accused and later convicted of killing a white police officer by an all-white jury. A significant legal ramification of this case was the end of all-white juries. Active in political causes, he was often called upon by Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson regarding racial tensions in Alabama during the 1960s. Billingsley also fought for a re-write of Alabama's 1901 Constitution and assisted in the establishment of the Alabama Democratic Conference while striving to to offset the segregationist policies of the Alabama Democratic Party.  

Orzell Billingsley, Jr., a widely respected legal authority and representative for the interests of African Americans known as the "black Patrick Henry of Alabama", died of natural causes in Birmingham, Alabama in 2001.


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