Bill proposes U.S. DOT building name change to honor Civil Rights leader

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A proposed bill would rename the DOT headquarters, at 1200 New Jersey Ave., the William T. Coleman Jr. Federal Building. (Courtesy: U.S. Department of Transportation)

WASHINGTON — A bill has been proposed to name the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters, at 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, after William T. Coleman Jr. (1920-1917). Coleman, who was DOT Secretary from 1975 to 1977, was the first African-American to serve in the position.
The William T. Coleman Jr. Department of Transportation Headquarters Act was introduced in late January by U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairman and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, along with Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Tim Scott, R-S.C., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
“As an accomplished legal scholar, World War II veteran and civil rights leader, Mr. Coleman had already made his mark on history before being selected to serve as Secretary of Transportation,” said Wicker.
“While at DOT, he provided a forward-looking vision for the future of transportation, spearheading the first comprehensive national transportation policy study and several important reform efforts,” continued Wicker. “Naming the DOT headquarters after Secretary Coleman would be a fitting tribute for this distinguished public servant.”
Coleman, born in 1920 in Philadelphia, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1946. He was an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, working with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to foster racial equality.
According to a tribute on the DOT website written by Richard F. Weingroff, Coleman, worked closely with attorney Thurgood Marshall — who later became the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court justice — on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, which proved racial segregation in schools to be unconstitutional.
“William T. Coleman Jr. was one of Pennsylvania’s most distinguished sons, and his lifelong work promoting equality and fairness had a profound impact on our country,” said Toomey.
Serving as the first African-American law clerk on the Supreme Court, the first African-American Secretary of Transportation and having co-authored the legal brief in Brown v. Board of Education to help desegregate public schools,  Coleman was a trailblazer,” continued Toomey. “His legacy is so impressive that former President Clinton rightly saw fit to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is entirely appropriate that the U.S. DOT headquarters be named after this great Philadelphian, said Toomey.
Coleman died March 31, 2017 at the age of 96.
“The work and service of the civil rights leader and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, William Thaddeus Coleman, is unknown to far too many Americans,” said Carper. “This measure will commemorate a man that Americans will now remember and honor for generations to come.”

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