Louis L. Redding, a civil rights attorney, was the first Black man admitted to practice law in Delaware. He argued one of the cases that comprised the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Lewis Alfred Redding and Mary Ann Holmes Redding gave birth to Redding on October 25, 1901, in Alexandria, Virginia. His parents were both graduates of Howard University. His family moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where his father worked for the post office and founded the Wilmington Black YMCA. Redding went to Howard High School in the city, where one of his teachers was Alice Dunbar-Nelson.
Redding went on to Brown University, where he delivered the commencement address for his graduating class in 1923. Working as an assistant principal at Fessenden Academy in Ocala, Florida, he saved money for law school. He then spent a year teaching English at Morehouse College. Redding was the only Black law student to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1928.
Redding moved back to Wilmington and became the state’s first black lawyer. Redding was the state’s only Black lawyer for the first 26 years, beginning in 1929, but he was not admitted to the Delaware Bar Association until 1949. Divorces, criminal defense, and business mergers were among his cases. During WWII, Redding was hired as a lawyer for the federal Office of Price Administration (OPA) in New York City.
Redding won a lawsuit in 1950 that established that the Delaware State College for Negroes was not “equal” to the white-only University of Delaware. He presented evidence that the differences included insufficient facilities and curriculum, no faculty tenure, significantly lower pay, a library one-tenth the size of UD, and a lack of academic accreditation. In Parker v. University of Delaware, Judge Collins J. Seitz ordered the University of Delaware to admit Black students. The integration of the university paved the way for integration in a variety of other Delaware locations, including movie theaters, hospitals, and retail stores.
Redding filed two new lawsuits in March 1951, one for Black high school students in Claymont, Delaware, who wanted to attend the all-white Claymont High School, and the other for a family in Hockessin, Delaware, who wanted a school bus for their daughter. Redding and his co-counsel, Jack Greenberg, were successful in obtaining an order compelling the state to provide the requested relief.
The state appealed, and the case was consolidated as one of five in Brown v. Board of Education. From 1953 to 1954, Redding argued several times before the United States Supreme Court as part of that landmark case. Redding successfully argued another Supreme Court decision, Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, in 1961, which held that segregation in public accommodations was not legal.
Redding received an honorary LLD from his alma mater, Brown University, in 1973. One of the dormitories at the University of Delaware was named after Redding. The County-City building in Wilmington is also named after Redding, and a statue of him stands in front of it.
Louis Redding retired from practice in 1984 and died on September 29, 1998 in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, near his home. He was 97. J. Saunders Redding, a well-known author and literature professor, was Redding’s younger brother.