Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 22:46 PM EDT, 14 July 2010
WASHINGTON, DC – Among Attorney Julius W. Robertson many talents as an author, civil rights activist and lawyer, he was also the lead attorney on the case of Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, and he is my maternal grandfather. I believe that his passion for fairness, equal treatment for all individuals regardless of color, religion, or sex instilled and inspired me to advocate for the rights of people across the globe whose plight is often overshadowed by the latest trends, happy news, or entertainment.
Julius graduated at the top of his class from Howard University in 1948 with combined degrees (B.A. and LL.B.); and today would have received the order of the coif for his academic standing.
Upon graduation, Attorney Robertson established the law firm of Robertson & Roundtree in 1950 as a firm with junior partners, of which Attorney Dovey J. Roundtree was the first. Attorney Roundtree has acknowledged that Attorney Robertson was her mentor as well as her law partner. He was the “majority” partner of Robertson & Roundtree, receiving 51% of the firm’s income to Attorney Roundtree’s 49%. Today, Attorney Robertson would be referred to as “senior and managing partner.”
According to written reports and my mother’s anecdotal stories, my grandfather was a brilliant litigator, distinguished civil rights activist and author, much sought after speaker, and well-respected member of the legal community in good standing. Attorney Robertson was admitted to the bar in the District of Columbia, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, U.S. Court of Claims, and the United States Supreme Court.
Attorney Robertson was a member in good standing of the American Bar Association—one of its first ‘official’ Black members, the National Bar Association and the District of Columbia Bar Association—all until his untimely death in 1961.
Attorney Robertson was recognized as a gifted intellectual with a broad range of knowledge of national and international geopolitics. He spoke, read, and wrote fluent German and was invited in the 1950’s to sit on the World Court of Israel after the close of the Nuremberg Trials. After graduation from law school, Attorney Robertson received a fellowship to Harvard University Law School but was unable to accept the offer.
- In 1944 my grandfather, Attorney Robertson wrote about Race Relations in This Bird Must Fly.
- JET Magazine, December 2, 1954 featured an article about this landmark case titled, ICC To Outlaw Jim Crow In Interstate Travel.
- In 1955 Attorney Robertson argues a Civil Rights cases on behalf of the plaintiff Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company
- JET Magazine, November 23, 1961, pg. 50, Smooth Talker Tangles With.
- JET Magazine, July 13, 1961, pg. 23, His Obituary
Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, 64 MCC 769 (1955) is a landmark civil rights case in the United States in which the segregationist Interstate Commerce Commission, in response to a complaint filed in 1953 by a Women’s Army Corps (WAC) private named Sarah Louise Keys, broke with its past racist practice and banned the segregation of black passengers in buses traveling across state lines.
The November 1955 ruling, publicly announced six days before Rosa Parks’ historic defiance of state Jim Crow laws on Montgomery buses, applied the United States Supreme Court’s logic in Brown v. Board of Education (347 US 483 (1954)) for the the first time to the field of interstate transportation, and closed the legal loophole that private bus companies had long exploited to impose their own Jim Crow regulations on black interstate travelers.
Keys v. Carolina Coach was the only explicit rejection ever made by either a court or a federal administrative body of the Plessy v. Ferguson (163 US 537 (1896)) ‘separate but equal’ doctrine in the field of bus travel across state lines, and the ruling made legal history both at the time of its issuance and again in 1961, when Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy invoked it in his successful battle to end Jim Crow travel during the Freedom Riders’ campaign.