The Belford Lawson Mystery
The player in the picture was Belford Vance Lawson Jr., originally from Roanoke, Virginia. The son of a railroad switchman and a schoolteacher, Lawson went briefly to Ferris Institute (now Ferris State University) in Big Rapids and then enrolled at Michigan in the fall of 1920. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a leading black fraternity, and of U-M's varsity debate team. He won awards as an orator. In 1924, he graduated from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
After coaching football for a time at all-black Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Lawson got his law degree at Howard University then went into private practice in Washington, D.C. In the 1930s he helped found the New Negro Alliance, an early force in the fight for civil rights. He was a member of legal teams that argued two successful civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He served as national president of Alpha Phi Alpha from 1945 to 1951. As a Democratic Party activist, he became, in 1956, the first African American ever to address its national convention. Lawson retired in 1977 and died in 1985.
His wife, Marjorie McKenzie Lawson, also a U-M grad (LSA 1933, MSW 1934), was a campaign aide to John F. Kennedy and later became the first African American woman appointed to a federal judgeship. She died in 2002.
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