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Solomon Seay, Jr.

In December 1955 Rosa Parks famously sparked the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott by refusing to honor the city’s segregation laws; when she was arrested, the city had just two African-American lawyers, Fred D. Gray and Charles D. Langford, and they represented her. In November 1957, Solomon S. Seay, Jr., became the third African-American lawyer on the civil rights battlefield in Montgomery, Alabama, when he returned home with his law degree from Howard University. Seay For fifty years Seay braved the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, and the state of Alabama’s entrenched racism in order to desegregate public schools and public accommodations, to protect Freedom Riders and voting rights activists, and to ensure equal justice under the law to African American citizens.

Born in Montgomery on December 2, 1931, Seay claims a family heritage of educational excellence and social activism. His maternal great uncle, Arthur H. Madison, graduated from Columbia Law School and gained admission to the Alabama bar on March 10, 1938. His early activism as a civil rights lawyer in Montgomery – in efforts to register black voters – tragically led to his unfair disbarment in Alabama, but he relocated to New York City and continued a distinguished career. Seay’s schoolteacher mother married a legendary preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, Rev. Solomon S. Seay, Sr., who served as a key adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Bus Boycott and following Dr. King and Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. His sister, Dr. Hagalyn Seay Wilson, was the first black woman to establish a medical office in Montgomery.

Solomon Seay, Jr., graduated in 1952 from Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. He chose to attend law school at Howard University for two reasons: first, the state of Alabama legally barred black students from its state-supported law schools and, instead, financed the legal education for any black student admitted to an out-of-state law school; second, Howard University, located in the nation’s capital, then stood in the forefront of civil rights education and trained the constitutional law scholars who would pioneer as this country’s black federal judges. A two-year stint in the army interrupted Seay’s legal studies and he received his law degree from Howard in 1957.

Promptly after passing the Alabama Bar in 1957, Seay put his legal skills to work, partnering first with Fred D. Gray; the Gray & Seay partnership expanded in 1966 to include Charles D. Langford, and Seay practiced with the Gray, Seay & Langford firm for twenty years before continuing in solo practice.

During his stellar legal career across the entire state of Alabama, Seay focused primarily on the acquisition of civil rights and the vindication of civil wrongs, and he associated frequently as counsel with the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP. Seay litigated significant cases in practically every area of civil rights, including race-based and gender-based employment discrimination, access to public accommodations, and police brutality. He secured the release of hordes of Freedom Riders and voting rights activists during the early 1960s and represented many of their distinguished leaders, including Stokeley Carmichael, Congressman John Lewis, Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Attorneys Percy Sutton and Mark Lane, and Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin.

Seay’s litigation forced the desegregation of the city’s public parks, desegregation of courtrooms and courthouse facilities, and opened jury service to blacks in state and federal courts. He is credited with being the most active lawyer for over 40 years in the litigation to enforce desegregation for students, faculty, and staff throughout the state of Alabama’s public schools and universities. Commonly known as Lee v Macon, this desegregation litigation was the vehicle for enforcing the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v Board of Education.
Books by Solomon Seay, Jr.:
  • Jim Crow and Me: Stories From My Life As a Civil Rights Lawyer
  • ISBN: 1-58838-175-7, Trade Cloth