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Black History Month: Reuben Lawson is remembered by the Roanoke community



Roanoke, Virginia – Reuben Lawson and Reverend Edward Burton collaborated throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

“We were in a full integration fight back in the 50s and 60s,” Burton said.

As a lawyer, Lawson served the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. After the Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, he worked to make sure he was ready to battle on a local level to integrate Southwest Virginia’s public schools.

“Supreme court said integration was the law of they had to be fought on the local level Reuben Lawson was the attorney in this area,” Burton said.

Burton served as vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Roanoke Chapter.

He claims that Lawson was a modest man who was proud of the job he had done to push for school desegregation in Southwest Virginia.

“That made me more interested and wanted to follow him and do the same kind of thing,” it gave me a sense of pride, the judges must have agreed because he won each case,” Burton said.

The Gainesboro History Project states that Lawson represented the NAACP in a 1960 challenge to the Roanoke City School Board.

In Green v. School Board of the City of Roanoke, he fought on behalf of 28 African American public school students and their leaders against the denial of their transfers from Black to White schools.

Anyone in the Commonwealth can now attend public schools.

Burton, who was employed by Lawson, wants to rename the Richard Poff Federal Courthouse as the Reuben Lawson Federal Courthouse to ensure that his efforts are remembered.

“I think we are living in different times,” Burton said.

Since October 2022, Roanoke Community members, local attorney John Fishwick, and Reverend Burton have been working to persuade senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, among other legislative leaders, to support Senate Bill 3412, a bill that would rename the courthouse.

“Many in the community have supported us and so we are excited about the support we’ve received to honor this great American,” Fishwick said.

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