History of The South Hampton Roads Bar Association
(compiled by President Emeritus, W.T. Mason Jr.)
After the 1898 U. S. Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, white Virginians in the state and local bodies intensified their efforts to reduce black political participation, restrict economic competition and to marginalize educational opportunities without directly violating the U.S. Constitution. In 1899 a new city ordinance required that parents show their poll tax receipt prior to enrolling their children in public school. In 1902 under the new Virginia Constitution, most African American men were not only disenfranchised but it denied black citizens the benefits of public appropriations. As a result, school buildings for black students were crowded,inadequately constructed, and furnished with used books and broken furniture. In 1907 the National Negro Bar Association (NNBA) was formed in Little Rock, Arkansas, after being denied membership in the American Bar Association. The 14th annual NNBA conference was held in Norfolk, Virginia in August 1922, bringing many of the top legal minds from around the country. In October 1923, after some preliminary efforts, local black lawyers formed the Tidewater Bar Association and elected Walter L. Davis as president, R.H. Pree as vice president,D. H. Edwards as recording secretary, V. C. Hodges as corresponding secretary and A. Rainey as treasurer.
After its formation, members of the Tidewater Bar Association (later renamed the Twin City Bar Association) continued their efforts to challenge the legalized segregation and discrimination established at the state and local levels and working with local organizations suchas the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund to tackle residential segregation, underfunded schools, and unequal teacher salaries. Walter L.Davis, president of the Independent Voters League required its members to register to vote to insure that blacks remained on the voting rolls, despite the poll tax. By 1933, the Twin City Bar Association had
played an important role in the effort to encourage voter registration and to assist local citizens in becoming qualified voters. In 1954,twenty-three members of the Twin City Bar Association, led by Hilary H. Jones, Jr. and W. T.Mason, Jr., endorsed a candidate for the Corporation Court of Norfolk. Their purpose was to insure that the individual selected would be fairand equitable in their treatment of individuals in the courtroom. In 1954, the Old Dominion Bar Association, a minority state bar association, held workshops on civil rights procedures for regional attorneys in Norfolk, Virginia at the Young Park Recreational Center. The Old Dominion Bar Association began regular meetings with members of the Twin City Bar Association to coordinate their strategy of attack.
In 1955, several members of the Twin City Bar Association applied for admission to the lily white Norfolk and Portsmouth Bar Association,including Hilary H. Jones, Jr., president of the Twin City Bar Association, Victor J. Ashe, C. Arnett Bibbins, Yolande H. Chambers, E. Armistead Dawley, Jr., T. Ione Diggs, J. Hugo Madison, Sr., Wm. T. Mason, Jr., and James A.
Overton. All applications were denied. In 1957 by a unanimous vote, the Twin City Bar
Association deplored the erection of artificial barriers and restrictions to the use of public
facilities by all Virginia's citizens because of race and announced its support for “any lawful action” to bring about an end to segregation. From time to time various members ran for City Council, including Victor J. Ashe, C. Arnett Bibbins, James Gay, Joseph L. Jordan, Jr. and
Thomas W. Young, without success. Joseph L. Jordan, Jr. was elected to Norfolk City Council in 1968, becoming the first African American council member since 1890. In 1976 Lester V.Moore, Jr. was appointed to the Juvenile and Domestic District Court becoming the first black judge in Norfolk. In 1977 Joseph L. Jordan was appointed to the General District Court of Norfolk.
In 1968, William P. Robinson, Jr. was hired as the first black Asst. Commonwealth Attorney in Norfolk. In 1970, he became the first black Asst. Attorney General hired in the Virginia Attorney General's office. In 1963, Wm.T. Mason, Jr. was appointed as the first black Asst. U. S. Attorney for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Each resigned in 1972 and formed their partnership of Mason and Robinson. Robinson succeeded his father, Wm. P. Robinson, and was elected to the House of Delegates in 1981 and served until 2000. Other members have been elected to various posts. Johnny E. Morrison was elected as Commonwealth Attorney in Portsmouth and subsequently was elected as a Circuit Court Judge in Portsmouth. Kenneth R.Melvin served 24 years in the House of Delegates from Portsmouth and is a Circuit Court Judge in Portsmouth. Jerrauld C. Jones served 15 year s as a Delegate, three years as Director of Juvenile Justice, three years as
a judge in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District of Norfolk, and was appointed to the Circuit Court of Norfolk in 2008. Junius P. Fulton, III was appointed to the Circuit Court of Norfolk. Michelle Atkins, a former Asst. Commonwealth Attorney was appointed to the Norfolk Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in 2009. Jerome James has retired from the Circuit Court, but has continued to sit as needed. Lester V. Moore, Jr. has retired from the Norfolk Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, but has continued to sit as needed. In Chesapeake Rufus A. Banks, Jr. and Eileen A. Olds are judges in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Marjorie A. Arrington is a judge in the Chesapeake Circuit Court. S. Bernard Goodwyn was appointed to the Virginia Supreme Court from the Chesapeake Circuit Court. In Portsmouth, Roxie Holder is judge in the General District Court, and Alotha C. Willis is judge in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Archie Elliott, Jr. is retired from the Portsmouth General District Court. In Suffolk, Alfreda Talton-Harris is judge of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Alfred W. Bates, III
is judge of the General District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of Virginia. Johnnie E. Mizzelle has served as a city Councilman and
Mayor of Suffolk. In Virginia Beach, Theresa McCrimmon Hammons is judge in the General District Court and Ramona D. Taylor was judge in
the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Tanya Bullock was appointed judge of
the Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in 2012. Woodrow Lewis, Jr. is retired in Virginia Beach from the
Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. In Norfolk General District Court, Gwendolyn Jones Jackson is the first black woman appointed as a judge. Raymond A. Jackson, her husband, is the first black judge appointed to the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia. Arenda Wright Allen is the first
black woman appointed as a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia in 2011. In 2012, Helivi L. Holland was appointed the Suffolk City Attorney. Gregory D. Underwood was elected as Commonwealth Attorney in Norfolk for a full term in 2010.
Among the lawyers from Norfolk who have gone on to outstanding achievements are Elaine Jones, first black woman graduate of the University of Virginia Law School (and sister to Judge Gwendolyn J. Jackson), who was the first female Director Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. John Charles Thomas, first black to make partner in a majority law firm at Hunton & Williams, and first black justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia. James Benton, first black judge on the Court of Appeals of Virginia, who was a partner at Hill Tucker and Marsh when he was appointed. Alfonso Carney, the first black corporate secretary of Philip Morris. Leroy Roundtree Hassell, Sr. was elected to the Virginia Supreme Court and in 2002 became the first black chief justice. He served two four year terms until Jan 31, 2011, before his death in February 2011.