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Sat, 03.23.1907

Robert E. Lillard, Lawyer, Politician, and Activist

Robert E. Lillard

Robert Lillard was born on this date in 1907. He was a Black lawyer, politician, and activist.

Born in Nashville to John W. and Virginia (Allen) Lillard, Robert Emmett Lillard was educated at Immaculate Mother’s Academy and in local public schools. He then attended Beggins Commercial College, although his ambition was to become a lawyer. In 1928, Lillard began work as a garage attendant and married Hallie C. Moore. They had three children: Gladys, Sandra, and Robert Walter. Lillard entered law school in 1932 at Nashville’s Kent College of Law.

He continued his city job and attended law classes five nights a week, graduating in 1935. In 1936, Lillard passed the bar examinations, but he continued to work at the city garage to support his family. During the next year, Lillard was appointed to Nashville’s Fire Engine Company No. 11, driving a fire truck until receiving a disability pension in 1950. Lillard then practiced law on a full-time basis and entered into local Black politics. In 1951, Lillard entered the predominantly Black third district second ward councilman race, winning the run-off election.  He served the city council for 20 years as chairman of several council committees: Public Safety Committee; Special Water Sewer Rate Committee; Special Beer, Wine, and Whiskey Committee; and Public Election Committee.

Lillard helped persuade the city to transform Cameron Junior High School into the second high school for local Blacks and successfully gained an ordinance to desegregate the Parthenon in Centennial Park. He also made unsuccessful campaigns for vice mayor and councilman-at-large. Meanwhile, Lillard’s political activism and law practice continued to thrive. He gained admission to the federal district court (1955), the U. S. Court of Appeals, the Sixth Circuit Court (1957), and the U. S. Supreme Court (1962). Lillard founded the Tennessee Federation of Democratic Leagues and campaigned for the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960.

In March 1978, the governor appointed Lillard as judge of the First Circuit Court, Tenth Judicial District. In 1978, he retired from the bench. Robert E. Lillard died on November 6, 1991.

Tennessee State University
African American Studies Department
3500 John A. Merritt Blvd
Nashville, TN 37209.

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