Henry Marsh, III worked as a civil rights lawyer. He was chosen as Richmond’s first African-American mayor by the city council and went on to be elected to the Virginia Senate in 1991.
Henry L. Marsh III, born in 1933, was named after his father and grandparents. His mother died when he was five years old, forcing his father to split the small family of four children for several years. Marsh was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in the country. He went to Moonfield School, a racially segregated “one-room school” with seven grades and one teacher.
Marsh and his siblings were back in Richmond, Virginia, with their father by the age of eleven. Marsh graduated from Maggie L. Walker High School with honors in 1952, where he was senior class vice president, president of the student NAACP branch, and editor of the school newspaper.
Marsh later earned an A.B. in sociology from Virginia Union University. Marsh testified on behalf of the student government at a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly while at Virginia Union. Despite the US Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, the Virginia legislature, comprised entirely of white members, was debating legislation to implement the Byrd Organization’s program of “massive resistance” to desegregation. Marsh met civil rights attorney Oliver Hill, who had also testified against the plan, while there. Hill encouraged Marsh to attend law school during their meeting.
Marsh joined the firm that would become Hill, Tucker & Marsh after finishing law school, along with Samuel W. Tucker and Oliver W. Hill. Marsh specialized in civil rights work, leading more than fifty desegregation cases as well as other significant cases, such as Quarles v. Philip Morris (1967), which established that minorities have equal employment opportunities, and Gravely v. Robb (1981), which resulted in single-member districts for the General Assembly.
Marsh was elected to Richmond City Council in 1966 and served as vice mayor from 1970 until his election as the city’s first African American mayor in 1977. He was also a founding member of the Metropolitan Economic Development Council and Richmond Renaissance. Mayor Marsh hosted the “National Conference on the Black Agenda in the 1980s” in 1981, which brought together African-American federal, state, and local officials.
Marsh became the first African American Chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s Capital Outlay Subcommittee in 2008. He was also the Chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, the Board of Trustees of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Living History and Public Policy Center, and the Chairman of the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program.