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William Robert Ming, Jr.
Born (1911-05-07)May 7, 1911
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died June 30, 1973(1973-06-30) (aged 62)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Alma mater University of Chicago
University of Chicago Law School
Occupation Civil rights attorney and law professor
Spouse(s) Irvena Ming, 1941

William Robert Ming, Jr. (May 7, 1911 – June 30, 1973) was an American lawyer, attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and law professor at University of Chicago Law School and Howard University School of Law. He is best remembered for being a member of the Brown v. Board of Education litigation team and for working on a number of the important cases leading to Brown, the decision in which the United States Supreme Court ruled de jure racial segregation a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.[1] In 1974, the NAACP created the William Robert Ming Advocacy Award to be awarded annually to a lawyer "who exemplifies the spirit of financial and personal sacrifice that Mr. Ming displayed in his legal work for the NAACP."[2]

Early life and education

Ming was born on May 7, 1911 to Annie and William Ming Sr., a South Side Chicago municipal employee. Later, he worked as a grocery clerk and on wrecking crews while putting himself through the University of Chicago.[3]

Ming earned a Ph.B. degree in 1931 and his J.D. degree in 1933 from University of Chicago Law School, graduated Order of the Coif, became one of the first African American members of a law review, and was published in the University of Chicago Law Review's inaugural issue.[1][4]

Legal career

Ming was admitted to the bar in 1933 and subsequently practiced law in both public and private capacities.

Military service

Ming volunteered and served in the Army's Judge Advocates General Corp,[5] rising to the rank of Captain.[3] Prior to serving, in 1941, Ming played a role in the NAACP's unsuccessful opposition to the formation of a segregated U.S. Army Air Corps fighter group for African Americans, a group that would come to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen, supporting an early lawsuit by an African American whose application for pilot training had been denied.[6]


Ming was one of the architects of the legal strategy leading to the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, working on the litigation team for that case and on a number of the important cases leading to Brown, including Shelley v. Kraemer (declaring unconstitutional state enforcement of restrictive racial covenants in housing) and Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (declaring unconstitutional separate but equal facilities for black professionals and graduate students in state universities).[1][7]

Other important decisions Ming played a role in include: NAACP v. Alabama (holding state's demand for NAACP membership lists unconstitutional), Sipuel v. Board of Regents (striking the exclusion of qualified black students from all-white state law schools), Ward v. Texas (holding the use of coerced confessions in murder prosecutions unconstitutional),[8] Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada (holding that states that provide a school to white students must provide in-state education to blacks as well), and Virginia State Bar v. S.W. Tucker (Virginia State Bar's attempt to disbar Samuel Wilbert Tucker non-suited/dismissed).[4][9][10][11]

King trial

In Montgomery, Alabama in May 1960, in front of an all-white jury, Ming helped defend Martin Luther King, Jr. on perjury charges related to alleged tax evasion,[12][13] obtaining an acquittal.[14] A "reluctantly admiring" Alabama lawyer was quoted: "Negro or not, he is a master of the law."[3] King wrote of the trial as a "turning point" in his life and praised Ming and his other principal lawyer, Hubert Thomas Delany: "They brought to the courtroom wisdom, courage, and a highly developed art of advocacy; but most important, they brought the lawyers' indomitable determination to win. After a trial of three days, by the sheer strength of their legal arsenal, they overcame the most vicious Southern taboos festering in a virulent and inflamed atmosphere and they persuaded an all-white jury to accept the word of a Negro over that of white men."[15]

King's wife, Coretta Scott King, would later say of the trial: "A southern jury of twelve white men had acquitted Martin. It was a triumph of justice, a miracle that restored your faith in human good."[14]


In addition to his litigation work, Ming served in leadership and other capacities such as ACLU counsel, National Veterans Organization President, Illinois Commerce Commission attorney, as a member of the Chicago NAACP Branch and the Illinois state Conference of the NAACP and as a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors.[4]


Ming was a professor at both Howard University School of Law and University of Chicago Law School, teaching at the latter from 1947 to 1953, where he became the first African American full-time faculty member at a predominantly white law school.[1][4] Pauli Murray, a student at Howard under Ming, remembered him as discouraging female students as a young professor, commenting on the first day of class, "I don't know why women come to law school anyway".[16]

Tax evasion and incarceration

In 1970, Ming was prosecuted for tax evasion and, despite having paid the back taxes and fines, was sentenced to 16 months in prison. In January 1973, he began to serve his sentence. A number of friends and colleagues urged authorities to grant him parole and release from prison.[17] After a stroke, Mr. Ming was paroled and sent to Veteran's Research Hospital in Chicago.[5]

Death and legacy

Ming died in a hospital in Chicago on June 30, 1973.[5][7]

In his eulogy, colleague Robert L. Tucker noted Ming's "finer and most productive years were spent in the trenches and upon the blood-stained battlefields" of the Civil Rights Movement.[3]

In April 1974, the NAACP National Board of Directors created the William Robert Ming Advocacy Award to be awarded annually to a lawyer "who exemplifies the spirit of financial and personal sacrifice that Mr. Ming displayed in his legal work for the NAACP."[2][4][18]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "William Robert Ming, Jr.". Howard University School of Law. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "NAACP Legal Department Awards". NAACP. Retrieved 2010-08-03. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Jim McElhatton (December 7, 2008). "Standing on 'the shoulders of Bob Ming'". Washington Times. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "NAACP Legal Department Awards". NAACP. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "A Case of Black and White". Ebony. December 1973. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  6. Lawrence P. Scott and William M. Womack (1998). Double V: The Civil Rights Struggle of the Tuskegee Airmen. Michigan State University Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-87013-502-6. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "NAACP attorney dies in Chicago". Afro-American. Baltimore. July 14, 1973.,216867&dq=ming&hl=en. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  8. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". June 1, 1942. Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  9. "Case Dismissed". The Crisis. January 1961. Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  10. "Va. Court Drops Charges Against NAACP Attorney". Baltimore Afro-American. February 3, 1962. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  11. S.J. Ackerman (Jun 11, 2000). "The Trials of S.W. Tucker; The Alexandria-born lawyer wasn't one of the most famous leaders of the civil rights struggle. But his enemies always knew who he was.". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-07-06. 
  12. Steve W. Duncan (May 28, 1960). "Ala. agent admits 'ok' of Dr. King". Afro-American. Baltimore. Retrieved 2010-07-05. "As the first day of the perjury trial of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., ended Wednesday, followers of the integration leader saw little chance that the all-white jury would acquit." 
  13. "King defense Planning Lengthy Testimony". Florence Times. Alabama. May 26, 1960. Retrieved 2010-07-05. "Ming, one of six Negro lawyers defending King, drew several major concessions from the [tax] agent." 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Dyer, Edgar (2003). "A "Triumph of Justice" in Alabama: the 1960 Perjury Trial of Martin Luther King, Jr.". pp. 245–267. Digital object identifier:10.2307/3559070. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  15. Martin Luther King and Clayborne Carson (1998). The autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Grand Central Publishing. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-446-52412-4. 
  16. Mack, Kenneth W. (2012). Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer. Harvard University Press. p. 229. ISBN 9780674046870. 
  17. "Manuscript Collections (M-R)". Howard University, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  18. "Lawyers who battled for civil rights feted". Afro-American. Baltimore. September 27, 1975.,1276633&dq=ming&hl=en. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 

Further reading

J. Clay Smith, Jr. (1993). Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-1685-1. 
Finkelman, Paul (November 1994). "Not Only the Judges' Robes Were Black: African-American Lawyers as Social Engineers". pp. 161–209. JSTOR 1229224. 

External links

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