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Sun, 07.18.1880

Willis Tyler, Lawyer born

Willis O. Tyler

*Willis O. Tyler was born on this date in 1880.  He was a Black lawyer.  

From Bloomington, Indiana, he was the son of Isaac and Mary Tyler, Monroe County’s Black community members.  The family lived on East 10th Street in what was then known as the “Buck Town” neighborhood.  His father died the year after Willis was born, and when Willis was only nine, his mother passed away, leaving him an orphan. 

Despite this challenging situation, he made his way through high school.  He attended Bloomington’s public schools, including the Center School at 6th and Washington, the only Bloomington school designated specifically for Black children.  In 1896, at 16, he enrolled at Indiana University, where he studied for two years.  Then, in response to a call issued in 1898 for volunteers to fight for Cuba’s freedom, he went to Indianapolis and enlisted in the Indiana Colored Volunteer Infantry, where he served as a corporal in the capacity of company clerk.  

By 1900, Willis was again living in Bloomington, attending school, and working through college as a Barbershop Porter.  He did well in school, winning the 1901 annual state oratorical contest of Indiana colleges and being the only black contestant.  After being announced as the winner, his fellow IU students carried him from the building on their shoulders in triumph.  The following year, 1902, Willis obtained his A. B. degree from Indiana University.  This was only seven years after the graduation of Marcellus Neal, IU’s first Black graduate.  Willis then went on to graduate from Harvard with a degree in law in 1908. 

After briefly practicing law in Illinois, he moved to Los Angeles, became active in the American Civil Rights movement, and worked closely with the NAACP.  In 1924, at 44, he married Lillian DeVaughn, and the couple resided in LA for the remainder of their lives.  He practiced law in Los Angeles for more than 35 years.  Willis Tyler died in June 1949.  According to his obituary, he was one of the city’s “pioneer Negro attorneys.”  He was survived by his wife and a half-sister, Emma Drisdom.

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