The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) deeply mourns the passing of Solomon Seay, Jr., who worked alongside LDF for decades as a cooperating attorney in Alabama. Mr. Seay was a renowned civil rights lawyer in Alabama, and his civil rights advocacy spanned six decades. After Bloody Sunday in 1965, he and LDF represented now-Congressman John Lewis, Hosea Williams and recently-deceased Amelia Boynton in the successful federal litigation to allow the Selma to Montgomery March to proceed peacefully. Mr. Seay left an indelible mark on this nation’s civil rights history.
Born on December 2, 1931, in Montgomery, Alabama, Solomon Seay, Jr. was the son of Reverend Solomon Seay, an early associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of four ministers supporting Dr. King in the New York Times advertisement which resulted in the libel case of New York Times v. Sullivan. Forced by de jure segregation to attend law school out of state, Mr. Seay obtained his law degree from Howard University School of Law in 1957. He promptly returned to Montgomery to set up a law practice with Fred D. Gray, who had recently represented Rosa Parks in challenging Montgomery’s segregated transportation system. At the time, Mr. Seay was one of only three African-American attorneys in Montgomery. Throughout his life, Mr. Seay mentored countless African-American lawyers; many of Alabama’s finest lawyers today began their careers with Gray & Seay.
Mr. Seay devoted his long career to challenging segregation and discrimination across the State of Alabama, and he frequently associated with LDF as local counsel. He litigated seminal cases in nearly every area of civil rights, including public accommodations, jury service, employment discrimination, voting rights and police brutality. He secured the release of the Freedom Riders and represented many of their distinguished leaders. In later years, Mr. Seay represented Alabama State University in decades-long litigation to eliminate the vestiges of segregation in Alabama’s higher education system, Knight v. State of Alabama. With LDF, he worked to enforce the promise of Brown v. Board of Education to provide equal educational opportunity to students of color in the landmark Lee v. Macon school desegregation case. Mr. Seay’s memoir, Jim Crow and Me: Stories from My Life as a Civil Rights Lawyer, was published in 2009.
In March of this year, LDF was fortunate to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday with Mr. Seay and his family. Mr. Seay was a special guest of the White House at the ceremony marking the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and cherished the honor of meeting the President and Mrs. Obama on that occasion. Later, Mr. Seay joined LDF attorneys at Brown Chapel AME Church, where he shared his recollections of the events 50 years ago before a spellbound audience, including students who were visibly moved by his incredible lifetime contribution.
Sherrilyn Iffil, LDF President and Director-Counsel, stated: “Mr. Seay exemplified simply the best of our cooperating attorney network. He took the cases other lawyers shunned; he persevered in the face of local opposition and hostility; and he ensured that the interests of the community always were served. He is the true hero of Alabama’s civil rights movement.”
Leslie Proll, Director of LDF’s Washington office and who knew Mr. Seay for 25 years, stated: “We have lost a giant. Mr. Seay was a fierce lawyer but a gentle soul. It is hard to think of anyone more responsible for changing Alabama for the better. We are indebted to him for his lifetime struggle for racial justice.”