William Hurd Scheide

Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. deeply mourns the loss of William Scheide, mentor and friend to successive Director-Counsels, longstanding member of the board, and the organization’s most generous individual donor.

Many who knew William Scheide knew that social justice was not merely a cause but a way of life. The impact of his contributions both spiritually and financially can never truly be measured. Through his quiet giving and unassuming generosity, Mr. Scheide transformed the prospects for hope and progress for countless individuals he would never know but to whom he dedicated his life to helping. His commitment, service, magnanimity and long association with the Legal Defense Fund created the foundational pillars for LDF to win important landmark cases, inspire hearts and minds, and chart a path towards true racial equality and justice under the law.

“When I joined the Board of the Legal Defense Fund,” Scheide told a Princeton University publication some years ago, “the Director-Counsel was Thurgood Marshall. I remember him quite well. He was a very humorous man.” The year was 1962.

Mr. Scheide served on the board of the Legal Defense Fund for 38 years. He was a member of LDF’s Investment Committee for an equal number of years and was LDF’s most generous contributor for even longer — more than half a century. For over fifty years, he made enormous contributions to the organization and its mission. He funded LDF’s endowment, made it possible for LDF to purchase its present office space, and provided funding for an organization-wide technological upgrade.

Mr. Scheide’s involvement with the Legal Defense Fund spans many cases, many issues, many years. Still, some cases stand out. Mr. Scheide told a reporter in 1994 that one of his favorite cases was that of Miss Mary Hamilton:

Miss Mary Hamilton, an African-American lady was testifying as a witness in a case in Alabama. The prosecuting attorney asked the witness, ‘Mary,’ to answer his first question. Miss Hamilton responded, “My name is Miss Mary Hamilton.” “Yes, Mary,” the attorney said, “now please answer the question.” Miss Hamilton refused, saying she would answer only when addressed correctly. The judge found her in contempt of court and sentenced her to five days in jail. The Legal Defense Fund accepted the case and took it all the way to the Supreme Court. Miss Mary Hamilton won.

We celebrate the life and legacy of William Scheide, who was a gentle but mighty force for social justice. We are grateful to him and his family for their unending support of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and its mission. Our condolences go out to the Scheide family and the many people whose lives were touched by William’s untiring spirit. It is only fitting that his life lasted a century. His legacy at the Legal Defense Fund is enduring.

From Sherrilyn Ifill: “Bill was the epitome of selflessness and a champion for humanity. As attorneys fighting for justice we are used to being on the front of lines, but the success and longevity of LDF is really about our partners who contribute in so many ways to this enduring battle not merely by litigating cases but by supporting us both financially and serving in leadership positions. Bill gave his life to the civil rights movement at a time when the work of LDF was extremely unpopular and met massive resistance. He is a testament to the ideals that underpin the work of this organization and what we can accomplish together when we stand united for a greater good.”

From former President and Director-Counsel Elaine Jones: “Bill Scheide is LDF’s greatest individual benefactor. Importantly, he also has shown us another kind of generosity — a close personal relationship spanning more than 50 years and including 38 years of remarkable leadership on our Board of Directors. Bill has traveled a remarkably long road with us….When I think about the contributions that Bill Scheide has made to LDF, I do not think first about the material things — although his gifts have been so great, notice is unavoidable. But such things are not what come to mind first when I reflect on Bill’s assistance to LDF. What I think about first is the love Bill has shown us. Because that is what his support is really about — love for people and a desire to help make their worthy goals attainable. “

From former Director Counsel, the late Julius L. Chambers: “Bill, I always think of you as one of our lawyers. You have been just as important, if not more so, as our lawyers who visited Mississippi, Alabama or North Carolina. You helped make it possible for Jack Greenberg, Jim Nabrit and others to appear before the Supreme Court and establish the rights of African Americans to a better education, a job, decent housing, and to a fair hearing in criminal court. As the history of the Legal Defense Fund is written, you will play a prominent role. I personally, and I am sure all persons and friends of the Legal Defense Fund, will remain eternally grateful.”

From Co-Chair Emeriti Martin Payson: “Bill Scheide has shown me that philanthropy is not just a way of giving to others; it is a way of making the world anew. Through his quiet giving and totally effective involvement, Bill Scheide does not only “give back to the community” (as so many try to do); he actually creates the community, whether that is a community of music listeners, newly aware of the music of Bach that he has brought to them; or a generation of civil rights activists, newly empowered to pursue their rights under the law. In giving generously to LDF, over 50 years, he has taken an active hand in remaking the world, in line with his own ideal of equal justice.

Bill, you show us the way to give to others. Your creativity, commitment and leadership provides a model for all of us who believe in the mission of LDF and social justice.”

From former Director-Counsel, Board of Directors Jack Greenberg: “Bill has not been merely a lover and patron of the arts and the humanities. I met him because he has been deeply engaged in social issues and has done a great deal about them. He has been the greatest individual benefactor of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, whose support has played a major role that has enabled it to effect social change. The great but insufficient march towards equality that America has taken would not have gone nearly as far as it has without Bill…In so many ways the country is better for all that Bill Scheide has done. As individuals, and as part of LDF, we are all in his debt.”

From LDF Board of Directors Cecilia Marshall: “You, Mr. Scheide, in your quiet and unassuming ways, were always there for Thurgood, beginning in the early 1950s (when the civil rights cause was not a popular one), whether it was in the form of financial or moral support for the “Inc. Fund” and for the Marshall family. Here we are in the year 2000, and your support for the “Inc. Fund” has not diminished. To the contrary, your support and contributions have multiplied many, many times over. As a current member of the LDF Board, please accept my deepest thanks and appreciation for your unwavering support, not only when Thurgood was at the “helm,” but continuing to this present day, enabling the Legal Defense Fund to wage its battle in the civil rights front.”

From former President and Director-Counsel, Ted Shaw: Over the span of his century-long life  Bill Scheide, with grace and humility, did so much for so many people who he never had the opportunity to know. He supported the work of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., from the days of Thurgood Marshall to the present, in a manner unparalleled by any other individual.  His service as a board member spanned five decades during a period of time when America underwent huge political and socio-economic changes that we still grapple with today. 

There is no doubt that without Bill Scheide the Legal Defense Fund would not have been able to wage the battle against American apartheid in the way it did. It is not hyperbole to say that Bill Scheide helped change the lives of millions of African Americans, and indeed all Americans, for the better.

Throughout his life Bill supported so many wonderful causes, including civil rights, the environment, education, art, and culture.  When I think about Bill Scheide I am reminded of the generosity and enthusiasm with which he personally shared his rare books and historical documents on more than one occasion.  More than anything, I remember the ‘music–Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, and on and on.  Bill Scheide’s contributions to the human spirit were, indeed, immeasurable. We are blessed to have had him in our lives.