Civil Rights Tour: Legal Campaigns - Frank D. Reeves, Leveraging the Law

7760 16th Street NW

Attorney and educator Frank D. Reeves (1916-1973) was a critical player in seminal civil rights victories, namely the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court school-segregation case. Born in Montreal, Reeves arrived in Washington as a child. After graduating from Dunbar High School, he earned an undergraduate degree from Howard University and then, in 1939, a law degree. Reeves subsequently worked with Thurgood Marshall as assistant counsel for the NAACP and helped shape the arguments that would persuade the Supreme Court to find public-school segregation unconstitutional.

Known for taking pro bono cases, Reeves organized others to do the same as part of Neighborhood Legal Services at Howard University where he served on the faculty from 1939 intermittently until his death.

In 1960, Reeves ran for and was elected to the Democratic National Committee, becoming its first African American member. He advised Senator John F. Kennedy on minority affairs both during Kennedy’s presidential campaign and his presidency (1961-63). Reeves also served as legal counsel to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and helped negotiate the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom as well as the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.

In 1969 he co-founded the National Conference of Black Lawyers, which promoted racial justice through legal defense. The next year he became the first executive director of the Joint Center for Political Studies, a black think tank.

Reeves and his family lived at 3934 New Hampshire Avenue NW for many years until moving to 7760 16th Street NW in 1961. In 1986, the city named its new municipal building at 14th and U Streets in the historic heart of Black Washington in his honor.