Donald L. Hollowell
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News Obituary Article

Civil rights pioneer made friends, history


Over a long career at the center of historic events, attorney Donald L. Hollowell helped free the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from prison and desegregate Atlanta's public schools and the University of Georgia.

Case by case, Hollowell "helped Atlanta save its soul," said his former law partner, Marvin Arrington.

Regarded by many as the predominant civil rights attorney in Georgia --- and perhaps the South --- the 87-year-old Hollowell died of heart failure Monday, said Stanley Foster, a partner at Hollowell, Foster & Gepp.

"He was a prince of a gentleman," said Arrington, now a Fulton County Superior Court judge. "During the movement, in and around 1960 and 1961, when it was hot and heavy, he fought for civil rights, and he did it with a degree of professionalism. He was intelligent and a great advocate."

In the 1950s and '60s, Hollowell served as one of the lead lawyers in the desegregation of Atlanta schools. He represented King in 1960 after the civil rights leader was sent to Reidsville Prison on a DeKalb County traffic charge. He was attorney for Charlayne Hunter (later Hunter-Gault) and Hamilton Holmes Jr. as they integrated UGA in 1961.

Hollowell's firm worked to desegregate Augusta's buses and Macon's schools and won a landmark case requiring Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital to admit black doctors and dentists to its staff.

Along the way, Hollowell mentored a host of young black attorneys, including Vernon Jordan and Horace Ward, now a federal judge.

"Donald Hollowell was certainly a pioneer among lawyers, especially African-American lawyers. Not only in Atlanta, but nationwide, as far as I am concerned," said Clarence R. Johnson Jr., president of the Gate City Bar Association, the premier organization for Atlanta's black lawyers.

Ward called his mentor "the last of the great civil rights pioneers in law in Georgia." In 1966, Hollowell accepted an appointment from President Lyndon Johnson as the first regional director of the new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which monitors workplace discrimination.

He remained at the EEOC as regional attorney until 1985 and was later considered a likely candidate for a federal or state judgeship, although no nomination ever came.

"I had a great deal of respect for him, and my only regret is that he was never appointed to the bench," said Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition and a former Atlanta mayor. "He commanded respect, and that is what made the difference."

Jordan, who went on to become an adviser to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and to lead the National Urban League, was vacationing in the Dominican Republic when he learned of Hollowell's death. Hollowell was "a friend, mentor, boss, idol and role model," Jordan said.

"I finished law school the first Friday in June 1960. The Monday morning after I graduated, I went to work for Donald Hollowell for $35 a week," said Jordan, now a managing partner of Lazard Freres & Co. in New York.

"I was his law clerk and researcher, and I carried his briefcase and I was his right-hand man. He taught me how to be a lawyer, a leader, how to fight injustice. Whatever I have become in the years, I owe it to him in large measure."

Jordan officially worked for Hollowell for little more than a year, but the two remained close. They spoke monthly, the final time Thursday.

"It was just a wonderful conversation," Jordan said. "We talked about his birthday, Christmas . . . and he urged me to take it easy and not to work too hard."

A Buffalo Soldier at 18

Hollowell was never a stranger to hard work. Born in Wichita, Kan., on Dec. 19, 1917, he was told by his janitor father at age 18 that he had to quit school to help make ends meet.

He went straight to Fort Leavenworth and enlisted in the Army's all-black 10th Cavalry, the regiment known as the Buffalo Soldiers in the Old West.

During his six years in the Army, he earned his high school diploma and, in 1941, enrolled in all-black Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., where he became the starting quarterback on the football team.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hollowell re-enlisted and rose to the rank of captain while serving in Europe. He returned to Lane after the war and earned an undergraduate degree. In 1951, he received his law degree from Loyola University in Chicago.

Then he went on to make history.

The funeral for Donald Lee Hollowell, who is survived by his wife, Louise, is at 11 a.m. Friday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Chapel on the campus of Morehouse College

"I am not sure we will ever see the likes of Hollowell again," Jordan said Tuesday, "but I hope so."

© 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Published in Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Dec. 29, 2004.