On March 31, 2011, William T. Coleman, Jr. visited Grand Rapids to speak about his life, triumphs, obstacles and challenges. Those experiences are now collected in his new book “Counsel for the Situation: Shaping the Law to Realize America’s Promise”. Coleman is a member of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and life-long friend of the Ford family. President Ford appointed Coleman as the Secretary of Transportation during his time in The White House.
The feature event took place at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Coleman also spoke on March 30 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Coleman was accompanied by his daughter, Lovida H. Coleman, Jr. , who assisted her father in writing his memoir. West Michigan lawyer John Smietanka moderated the conversation.
William Coleman’s accomplishments and experiences truly distinguish him as a great American. He graduated from Penn summa cum laude before he received his MBA and Law Degree from Harvard University, graduating top in his class. After graduation, Coleman became the first American of Color to clerk the U.S. Supreme Court and his brief in Brown v. Board of Education was instrumental in rendering racial segregation unconstitutional in public schools. He also served as a member of the NAACP’s legal team.
During World War II, Coleman served in the Army, having volunteered for Cadet School, hoping to be a fighter pilot. Coleman would defend several officers of the “Tuskegee Airmen”, a group of African Americans serving in the Army Air Corps. Members of the group attempted to gain access to a segregated Officers Club, where they were court marshaled for going in. Coleman won the case and had all the officers acquitted, with the Army changing its policy to allow all officers to all clubs.
Coleman was appointed as the 2nd African American as a Cabinet Secretary, but he has worked on behalf of several other Presidents including: member of Dwight Eisenhower’s Committee on Government Employment Policy; assistant counsel for Lyndon Johnson’s Warren Commission (Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy); consultant for Richard Nixon an Gerald Ford to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; on Bill Clinton’s Commission on Airline and Airport Security; and as a member of the U.S Delegation of the United Nations General Assembly.
In 1995, President Clinton presented Coleman with the Presidential Medal of Honor.