Washington attorney Belford V. Lawson (1909-1985) spoke these words at a 1947 forum at Lincoln University that followed the release of a much-anticipated report by the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. He urged Lincoln students to study the report’s recommendations for eliminating segregation and to enter into a career of public service. Lawson had embarked on his own career in civil rights years earlier. He co-founded the Negro Alliance in the early 1930's and served as lead attorney for New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery, the 1938 Supreme Court case that upheld the right to boycott and picket businesses. In 1941 he filed a case regarding discrimination in the cafeteria of the new National Airport in what the New York Amsterdam Star-News called the first D.C. civil rights case since 1868. According to the court decision, the airport food concessionaire was allowed to continue its discriminatory practices since federal facilities could follow local laws, and National Airport was located in Virginia where segregation was legal. Despite additional lawsuits, the airport food concessionaire continued to discriminate until 1949.
In 1950 Lawson was part of the legal team for Henderson v. United States, a landmark lawsuit that abolished segregation in railroad dining cars. In 1948, with Lawson as its national president, Alpha Phi Alpha and several other African American Greek-letter organizations formed the American Council on Human Rights to press for housing, civil rights legislation, and fair employment practices by government agencies. The group’s conventions drew thousands.
Marjorie M. Lawson (1912-2002), Belford Lawson’s wife and also an attorney, served as general counsel for the National Council of Negro Women and as an adviser to John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign. President Kennedy appointed her to the Juvenile Court bench in 1962, and President Johnson appointed her U.S. representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1965. The couple lived on Logan Circle from 1938 to 1958 and rented their third floor to U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (D-NY, 1945-1971). In the 1960s, Powell would serve a vital role in shepherding President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s civil rights legislation through Congress.