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Thu, 12.13.1923

Wiley Branton, Lawyer, and Activist born

Wiley A. Branton

Wiley Branton was born on this date in 1923. He was a Black attorney and civil rights, activist.

Born in Pine Bluff, AR, Wiley Austin Branton was educated in elementary, junior high, and high schools in Pine Bluff schools. An Army veteran of World War II, Branton spent time teaching Blacks how to mark an election ballot after the war, which resulted in his conviction of a misdemeanor for "teaching the mechanics of voting." In 1950, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Arkansas A.M.& N. College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).

Two years later, he received a Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was the fourth Black student to enroll at the institution and the third Black student to graduate.  Branton also served as the chief counsel for the Black plaintiffs in the 1957 Little Rock Desegregation Case. During his long distinguished legal career, he made significant contributions in the voting rights arena as both a public officer and private citizen. In 1962, he was unanimously selected as the first Executive Director of the Southern Regional Council's Voter Education Project, based in Atlanta.

The project was a cooperative effort that successfully registered over 600,000 Black voters in 11 states and helped create the momentum for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. During the early 1960s, he was part of the "freedom riders" in Mississippi engaged in voter registration drives throughout the South.  In 1965, he was appointed the Executive Secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson's Council on Equal Opportunity (1965-1967) in Washington.  Branton moved to Washington and traveled throughout the South encouraging Blacks to register under the Voting Rights Act.

During the period, he also served as Special Assistant Attorney-General for Nicholas Katzenbach and Ramsey Clark. From 1972-1974, he was the head of the Voter Registration Fund (VRF), a "non-partisan organization created to provide funding to tax-exempt organizations in support of voter registration activities." In 1978, he became Dean of the Howard University School of Law, a post he held until September 2, 1983. Wiley Austin Branton died on December 15, 1988.

To Become a Lawyer


The African American Atlas:
Black History & Culture an Illustrated Reference
by Molefi K. Asanta and Mark T. Mattson
Macmillan USA, Simon & Schuster, New York
ISBN 0-02-864984-2

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