Margaret Bush Wilson
Civil Rights Activist and Attorney —
MARGARET BUSH WILSON was a Washington University – St. Louis trustee emeritus, prominent civil rights attorney in the 1960s and the first woman of color to chair the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Wilson was instrumental in obtaining the ruling in Shelly v. Kramer which invalidated racial restrictive covenants on property. Because of her work, people of color can live in a house and area of their choice, a luxury that did not exist prior to the 1948 Supreme Court ruling that held restrictive covenants unenforceable. The housing covenants kept blacks, Jews, and others from buying homes in certain areas.
Wilson served as deputy director of the Model Cities Program during President Lyndon Johnson’s administration. In the late 1930s, before Wilson was persuaded to think about becoming a lawyer, her home state of Missouri did not allow blacks to attend its state-supported law schools. That state paid tuition stipends for residents of color to attend out-of-state schools, although African-American lawyers were allowed to practice law in Missouri once they had graduated and passed the bar.
The state’s discrimination against blacks seeking a legal education was challenged by the NAACP in Gaines v. Canada, 304 U.S. 337 (1938). In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that Missouri must allow Lloyd Gaines to attend the University of Missouri Law School or else provide “separate, but equal” law school facilities for him and other black students. Rather than integrate, Missouri created Lincoln University of Missouri School of Law. Wilson was in the second class, which had one other woman enrolled. Wilson was the second female African American lawyer admitted to practice in Missouri in 1943.