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Nelson H. Nichols was an Arkansas native, born December 19, 1865, at Arkansas Post in Arkansas County. His family arrived in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1870 and Nichols had approximately seven years of formal schooling before beginning to earn his living as a laborer at brick yards, and in oil and shingle mills.
In 1886, Nichols began working for an African-American lawyer, J. Pennoyer Jones, who was then clerk and ex-officio recorder for Desha County, Arkansas. Pennoyer Jones encouraged Nichols to study law and acted as his mentor both while Jones remained in his clerk’s position and after Jones was elected as a county judge in 1890-92. This is the first instance discovered of mentoring by a Black attorney for an younger Black man in Arkansas.
Nichols is first listed as an attorney in the 1888-89 Little Rock City Directory. He is also listed in the 1895-96 directory. Nichols was admitted to the Pulaski County Circuit Court on December 24, 1893. Nichols also was admitted to the U.S. District Court. He was licensed by the state Supreme Court on October 21, 1899, and admitted to practice in the court on March 27, 1900. Nichols was a member of the Wonder State Bar Association, a Black lawyer’s organization, in 1901. He appeared as attorney of record in one case in 1914. In 1916, Nichols was the subject of a disbarment action, in which it was alleged that he had improperly handled administration of an estate. The result of the disbarment action is not known, but it apparently failed, as he continued to be listed in the attorneys section of the Little Rock directories until 1931.
The 1900 census indicates he was single and rented his home. In 1902, he married Lizzie, age 28, also an Arkansas native. They had three children: Amirita, Nelson, Jr., and Junette. They continued to rent their home. By 1920, the family had two more children, Fernie and Harold J., and they owned their home. Nichols was an early member of the first Arkansas branch of the NAACP in Little Rock in 1924. The date of his death is not known.
Sources: Judith Kilpatrick, “(EXTRA)Ordinary Men: African-American Lawyers and Civil Rights in Arkansas Before 1950,” 53 Ark. Law Rev. 299, 302 n6, 308,339, 345 n341, 371, 380 n626, 394 (2000); D.B. Gaines, Racial Possibilities as Indicated by the Negroes of Arkansas 89 (1898); E.M. Woods, Blue Book of Little Rock and Argenta Arkansas 53-56, 147-49 (1907); The Colored Lawyers, Arkansas Gazette, 7/31/1901; 1888-89 1890, 1895-96 Little Rock City Directories; AR Supreme Court Admission Records; 1900, 1910, 1920 U.S. Census for Arkansas; Papers of the NAACP, Part 12, Reel 4, p. 851, 875; ”Seek Disbarment of Negro Lawyer,”2/28/1916, Arkansas Democrat, p. 5; Ten to be Cited for Service Emancipation Program, 6/22/1963, Arkansas Gazette; Papers of the NAACP, Part 12, Reel 4, p. 851, Little Rock, 1926 (list of Pledges of Little Rock Citizens made to Dr. Robert Bagnall, 10/2-3/1924); Papers of the NAACP, Part 12, Reel 4, p. 875 (letter to General Secretary of N.A.A.C.P of New York, James Weldon Johnson, dtd 12/12/1924);
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